Posts Tagged With: Kelly

Chapter #80: Change of Plans

Two men and a youth sat in a green 1976 Pontiac Bonneville parked on Pitts Bay Road in Pembroke Parish in Bermuda, near Spanish Point. Or perhaps it was three men – depending on how one counted. After all, if one’s age is set by the number of years that have passed since one’s birth, two of the car’s occupants were well over 300 years past birth, including the apparently youngest of the three. They sat watching a fourth man, who stood in an alley across the road from the Pontiac, leaning his right shoulder against the brick wall of a large and prestigious hotel, scrolling through something on the phone in his left hand. This fourth man had never been in the Pontiac, and was in truth unaware of the three watching him. Though if he had known of them, he would have been unconcerned; he was a policeman. The man behind the wheel of the car, who by some reckoning was far younger than the two paler men in the backseat, was just finishing up a phone call. “Yah, mon, right by de Royal Palms, ya know. De alley behin’ it. Ya.” He closed the phone and put it back on the console by the gearshift.

“Will it work from here?” the older man in the backseat – oldest of the three in the car by any reckoning – asked the youth. The youth, who was looking back and forth between the man in the alley and a smartphone in his own hand, in response to the question lifted his phone and sighted through the digital camera. Then he shrugged. “Depends what he does, right. I can capture him from here, and you’d know him for who he is, but if he does somethin’ small like take money, we won’t see what he’s doin’.”

The man who had asked nodded slowly, then leaned forward and brushed the shoulder of the third man, who had darker skin than either of the other two, not being a sunburned Irishman as the two in the backseat were, and then the Irishman asked, “We’d need t’ be seein’ what he does, aye?”

The dark-skinned man, who had not been paying attention, glanced back over his shoulder; he saw the young one holding up his phone camera, and then he looked out at the man in the alley. He nodded. “Yah, mon,” he said, his Island accent heavy but musical. “’Specially you wantin’ take down one rough son-bitch like dat wan dere. You be needin’ perfect pitchas, mon, show his face, show ‘im bein’ bad same time. Perfect pitchas, or you no chance stop dat mon.” He turned farther, looking the other man in the eye. “Den you gots to do your ting, mon.” He held his fist by his head, index finger extended against his temple, and mimed pulling a trigger and firing a shot.

In the backseat the oldest man, who was named Shane MacManus, nodded slowly, his fingers resting on the butt of the pistol tucked into the wide leather belt around his middle. He looked at the man in the alley for a few moments more, and then glanced back at his younger crewmate, whose motions with the phone in his hand echoed those of the man in the alley. “I don’t understand this video folderol, still. Tell me how this is to work, again?”

The young man, though not the youngest in the car, who was called Balthazar Lynch, looked up slowly from the phone, staring at his crewmate in exasperation. Then he sighed – and then suddenly brightened. “Here, Shane – I mean, Sergeant – I’ll show ye.” The title was coated thickly with sarcasm, but MacManus didn’t bristle at the tone; it seemed discipline was a minor concern for this particular sergeant. Lynch held the phone between them, moving his thumbs over the screen. Then he said, “All right, now, I’m goin’ t’ capture ye the way I’ll do t’ yon rough son-bitch.” the last words took on the driver’s accent, and the man started a laugh at hearing it from the pale apple-cheeked youth. “All right now: Master MacManus, can ye tell me, please, how ye managed t’ gull our Captain into givin’ ye some rank that no one on our ship has ever held before?”

MacManus gave Lynch a level stare.

“Look here, into the phone,” Lynch murmured, tapping the side of the device.

MacManus frowned, clearly uncomfortable with the whole business. “Look where? It’s like you’re holdin’ a bloody stick o’ scrap wood and tellin’ me to look into it.”

“Here,” Lynch clarified, pointing with exaggerated care. MacManus leaned closer, eyes locked on the point Lynch had indicated. Now it was Lynch’s turn to frown, and he looked at the screen, then turned the phone and stared at the back of it (On the screen, the left half of his frowning face became visible, and then vanished again as he) then turned it back. “No – here,” he said, pointing now at the camera’s lens.

Obediently, MacManus stared at the dark circle. “I got me rank because I told the Captain we needed someone t’ command while we aren’t aboard the ship, should there be any fightin’. As there ever is.” He reached out, firmly pushing the phone down; Lynch looked directly into his face, then, and MacManus said, his voice low and sincere – and somewhat menacing: “Have ye a complaint on’t, boyo?”

Lynch looked quickly at the phone, tapped the Stop button, and then put it down in his lap as he looked straight into MacManus’s eyes and said, “Ye know I don’t. Ye’re the best soldier aboard, wi’ the most years marchin’ off t’ war. Ye’re the right choice.” Then he cut his gaze down and to the side, muttering something else.

“What’s that? Speak up, boy,” MacManus growled, turning his ear toward Lynch.

Lynch’s lips pressed tight, and he shook his head. “Tcha, ‘tis nothin’. Just that – there’s the Captain, o’ course, and Kelly’s the bosun’s mate, and ye’re the Sergeant-at-arms – and then I’m just . . . Lynch. Boy,” he added sarcastically.

MacManus, to his credit, nodded rather than laughing – but there was a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he said, “Aye, and ye wish the Captain would give some preference to ye, is that it? Ye wish his Royal Captainness to recognize ye before the courtiers? Kiss ye on both cheeks, give ye a ribbon? Or perhaps a red rose on a wee cushion?”

Lynch’s cheeks reddened and his eyes narrowed as MacManus mocked him, but at the end, his gaze softened slightly, his lips curling into the hint of a smile. Then he blinked, and gave MacManus a sniff. “Aye, I’d take that. Just that,” he said, and MacManus laughed.

“All right, show me this video shite,” MacManus said. Lynch, who had been going soft-eyed once more, started out of it, and took his phone from his lap and tapped the screen. Then he tapped once more, and turned it to face MacManus – who found himself looking into his own face. “Here,” Lynch’s voice said from the phone, and then MacManus’s gaze locked directly into MacManus’s gaze.

“Christ’s teeth!” the living Irishman swore as the video Irishman said, “I got me rank because I told the Captain we needed someone t’ command while we aren’t aboard the ship, should there be any fightin’. And there ever is.”

Lynch stopped the recording and lowered the phone, grinning at MacManus. The older man shivered. “That’s a right deviltry, it is. Makin’ a portrait of a man what moves as he moves? What speaks his own words back at him?” He shivered again, swallowing convulsively. “’Tisn’t right.”

Lynch shrugged. “Mayhap ‘tisn’t, but sure and it’ll do the job on our Lieutenant Hargreaves out there.” He looked back out the window at the man in the alley, who was glancing slowly to his left and right, looking for someone or something; not finding it, he looked back at his phone, his face a mask of blank, unflappable patience.

MacManus frowned at Lynch, who was once more gazing at his own phone in a strange sort of echo of the man outside, the target. “I don’t understand what this video will do to him. It’s not magic, aye? So ye’re no’ tryin’ t’ capture his soul or enchant him into your service or some codswallop?”

Lynch psshed. “’Tis no magic. ‘Tis this world. ‘Tis the way of it.” He put the phone down on the seat beside him, after one last glance to ensure that Hargreaves waited still, alone still, and then he addressed MacManus. “Killin’ your enemy’s no’ the best road, any more – if it ever was. Killin’ a man only causes new problems.”

MacManus interrupted. “It solves the problem you’re havin’ wi’ th’ man ye kill, don’t it?”

The man in the front seat, who was named Peter Desmond – the only one in the Pontiac who was not 350 years removed from his birthday – nodded at this. But Lynch shook his head. “Aye, o’ course, but still he reaches out o’ his grave t’ throw a thousand ropes about ye. Take – well, take the Captain and ye and Kelly. We’re here, doin’ this, because ye three –” He paused, glanced at Desmond, who was looking at Hargreaves; then he shrugged and went on, now speaking in Irish. “Ye three killed all of those fellows. Where the American killed no one, but took a video of ye three fighters –”

“Aye, braw and valorous fighters,” MacManus interjected.

Lynch nodded. “Aye, truly so – but because ye fought, where Calhoun did not, now ye must serve him. He defeated ye, even as ye defeated the others. And because Calhoun did not kill, now there is nothing entangling him. You see?” He lifted the phone. “This way is better.”

MacManus pursed his lips, then nodded grudgingly. “Aye, perhaps so.” He switched back to English. “But how does this video give us power o’er him, if there is no magic to ‘t?”

Desmond turned to look at MacManus. “If we cotch ‘im doin’ bad tings, we can tell ‘im to do alla what we say, or else we give de video to de coppers.”

MacManus blinked. “The coppers?”

“Yah, mon, de police, de fuzz, mon.”

MacManus blinked, started to speak, but then turned his frown in Lynch’s direction. “But Hargreaves is an officer of the police, aye?”

Lynch nodded. “Aye.” He was watching the waiting man, paying little attention to MacManus’s puzzlement.

MacManus’s expression turned incredulous. “And you think the same police that are of his crew – that are under his command – will turn on him?” Lynch shook his head dismissively, looking past MacManus, unconcerned with these details.

It was Desmond who answered him, propping one leg up on the console, one arm along the back of the bench seat. “If we got video – if we get de good pitchas – den dey gots to trow ‘im out. Or else we put de pitchas on internet, show de whole world, make tings too hot for Lieutenant Hargreaves, dere.”

MacManus’s expression grew only more confused and incredulous. “Show the whole world? How would ye do that? Ye’re not God, to put a sign in the sky!”

Desmond smiled, showing teeth whiter and straighter than the ancient Irishmen were accustomed to. “Don’t fret ‘bout it, mon. Look: I talk to Two-Saint ‘bout dis, when ya boy dere bring it up. Two-Saint say it all good, video work fine, no need kill dat mon. Truth, I think him like it better if we get pitchas den if Hargreaves get shot. Dis’ll work, mon. No worries.” His phone rang, and he picked it up, flipped it open, said, “Yah, mon.” There was a pause while he listened, and then he said, “Yah, mon, same place, ‘im still dere. Still alive.” Then he folded the phone closed and returned it.

MacManus looked out at Hargreaves, and then back to Desmond. Desmond nodded. “B’lieve it, mon. You get dem pitchas, you take ‘im down.” He looked back at Hargreaves. “But we need get closer, before who ‘im waitin’ on show up. Him waitin’ like dis, back dere, dis gwan be a good pitcha – but you gots to be closer dere. We needs to see ‘im doin’ bad tings, or it no good.”

Lynch sucked on his teeth thoughtfully, idly caressing the smooth glass and plastic phone. “Should we get out? Stand nearer to him?”

MacManus shook his head. “You and I stand out in this place.”

Lynch frowned. “Nay, there be Englishmen hereabouts, and others of a lighter skin.”

MacManus gave him a level look. “Not that are equipped as we are,” he said, pointing at their somewhat incongruous clothing – Lynch’s down-turned leather boots, for one, or his own wide belt, lurid scarlet shirt, and the loose pantaloons in a bright floral print he was quite fond of (and which Peter Desmond didn’t have the heart to tell him were maternity pants).

Desmond pointed out the window. “Dere goes one,” he said.

Startled, MacManus and Lynch turned and looked: indeed, a tall man, straight and lean with black hair pulled back and tied with a leather thong, dressed in a loose white shirt, loose black pants, a bright red sash and tall leather boots, was walking purposefully down the sidewalk. “It’s the Captain,” Lynch exclaimed, starting to move to wave or thrust his head out the window to call to Captain Kane; but then he thought better of it, with a glance at Hargreaves, and he sat back. The Captain walking by did not even glance in their direction.

“What’s he doin’?” MacManus asked. No one answered.

The Captain reached the mouth of the alley, paused, looked to either side down the sidewalk, and then turned into the alley, walking straight at Hargreaves. The policeman’s eyes flicked up, saw the pale Irishman, dismissed him, and turned back down to his phone.

And as the three men in the car watched, Captain Damnation Kane walked to where Lieutenant Hargreaves stood, unhurriedly drew a revolver from his pocket, pointed it, and shot Lieutenant Hargreaves in the forehead, just as the man looked up again from his phone. The lieutenant’s head snapped back, bouncing off the wall that was now splashed with blood and brain matter, his body rocking back from his head down to his feet, as if someone had grabbed him by the ears and snapped out the wrinkles. As the ripple hit his feet, they flew up, and as his head hit the wall, he went limp, the phone flying back as his arms were flung forward and then back as he struck the wall, the glass face smashing to pieces on the ground. The tall, muscular body fell beside the broken phone, folding in half at the waist, the man’s torso sprawled across his own legs. Captain Kane lowered his aim and fired twice more into the body, which didn’t move at all from the impacts. Without a glance back, the Captain walked on down the alley and out of sight around the corner.

The two sailors stared, mouth agape. Desmond started the Pontiac, signaled, pulled out. “Well now,” he said as he hit the gas and they rumbled away from where people were starting to react to the shockingly loud explosions of the gunshots, “I guess we won’t be needin’ dem pitchas, after all.”

As they turned a corner, leaving the scene behind, Lynch slowly shook his head. What he was negating was not clear.

 

***

 

While the Pontiac was driving away, a Jeep parked on the next block, with its engine running, held two more men who were most eager to be leaving, as well, preferably as fast as possible. But both men – another Irish sailor, this one a bear of a man with auburn hair and a full beard two shades redder, and behind the wheel another Bermuda native with dark skin – kept their eyes fixed to the corner of a building, around which they had watched a man disappear, and they now awaited his return.

But so fixed were they on that particular spot that they did not see the very man coming out of an alley a hundred feet down the street; walking quickly but calmly, his face an emotionless mask (although a closer, more careful examination would reveal two things: one, the eyes in that face were not calm, were in fact so filled with feeling, filled with fear and anger and despair, that they seemed to burn with a green fire, belying the mask-like appearance of the face around those gleaming eyes; and two, there were several tiny drops of blood on the cheeks and the brow and the bridge of the nose. It was not his blood.), the man approached the Jeep, opened the door – both passengers started violently, the driver cursing and the Irishman half-drawing the sword he held from its scabbard – and climbed in, pulling the door closed behind him. He pointed down the road, not looking either of his companions in the eye, and said, “Go.”

The man in the back seat leaned forward, handing the blood-spattered man the sword; but he did not take it, nor did he look back even when the large man asked, “What did ye do, Captain?”

The blood-spattered Captain turned and looked steadily at the driver, who was staring incredulously back, the car idling, still. The Captain pointed again at the road, extending his arm, turning to face forward. “You should go. You do not want to be seen here.”

The driver slapped the gear shift into first, depressed the clutch – and then paused and looked at his bloody passenger. “Dere were shots. Was dat you?” The Captain glanced at him, and the driver, looking up at the man’s brow, pantomimed wiping his forehead; the Captain ran his fingers across his face, and the tips came away smeared with blood. He looked at his red-fingered hand, rubbing the tips of his fingers against the ball of his thumb, and said, quietly, “Aye, it was.”

“You shot Hargreaves,” the driver said. It was not a question.

The Captain looked steadily at him with his burning green eyes. “Aye, I did.” He lifted three blood-tipped fingers. “Three times,” he said, his voice still calm.

The driver’s jaw clenched. “He dead?” he asked through gritted teeth.

The Captain nodded. “After the first shot. But if he could die thrice, he’d have done so.”

The driver dropped his gaze away from his passenger, and the Jeep pulled out and drove away. In the distance – but not too far – sirens could be heard approaching. The driver paused at an intersection, turning his head, trying to place the sirens; when it became clear which direction they came from, he turned the other way, and hit the gas.

In the alley, the dead man’s cell phone, the glass cracked, the case smeared with dust and blood, rang and rang.

No one answered.

 

***

 

“Two-Saint is going to be pissed,” Andre said again, not for the first time. He snatched up his cellphone, but had to drop it again in order to steer the Jeep around a slow-moving bus.

Damnation Kane gazed out the window, his eyes idly roaming over the countryside, trees and houses, families in ragged clothing, birds in spectacular plumage, the sun glittering on green plants so bright the world seemed made of emeralds under a sapphire sky. “He wanted the man dead. The man’s dead,” he said, his tone indifferent, unconcerned. Behind him, Kelly frowned, his hands running nervously over the captain’s sword, which he still held.

Andre scoffed. “Your man had a different idea. Two-Saint liked it better.” He glanced over at Damnation. “No blood,” he said pointedly.

Damnation looked at his fingers; the blood had wiped off on his pants, but the skin still seemed reddish; perhaps this blood would not wash away. He turned to face Andre, who was glancing back and forth between Damnation and the road ahead. “’Tis unfortunate when a man gets what he wants only t’ find he does no’ want it. But such is that man’s misfortune, and no other’s.” He held his gaze on Andre, who shook his head and concentrated on his driving. Damnation turned to look out the window once more. “I do not go to raise conflict, but in truth, Two-Saint is your master, no’ mine. Calhoun was the one who commanded me, and his instructions were to kill. Anythin’ else is between they two; I am only a tool.” He paused, and then so quietly that none heard it but himself, he said, “A broken one, at that.”

“We’ll see,” Andre said. “I’m takin’ you back to de farm, and den I talk to Two-Saint.”

Damnation smiled, and spoke casually. “Tell me, how long will it be before la policia find the man who killed their own lieutenant?”

Andre shook his head. “Not long. Dey’ll be boiling ovah ‘bout dis.” He sped up, honking at the slower-moving cars in his way, with no apparent effect. Then his eyes widened and he whipped around to face Damnation. “Were you seen?”

The pirate turned a wide smile on the Bermudan. Then he shrugged. “Perhaps not. Though I did no’ attempt concealment. But perchance ‘twill take them some time t’ search me out, and t’ find someone who has seen ye and I together.” He paused. Andre looked away from the road once more, and their gazes met. “Perchance,” Damnation repeated, and turned back to his window.

Andre’s nostrils flared as he sucked in a deep breath – and then he had to turn back to the road, swerving to avoid a collision with a bicycle, leaning on his horn to express – well, something. “You wanted to get caught,” he said slowly.

Damnation turned and looked at Kelly as he said, “I wished to be seen. To be known. I alone fired the shots. I alone murdered the man. I and no other.” Kelly frowned. Damnation said, “My men are innocent. They may leave, and go where they wish.”

“But what about you, Captain?” Kelly asked in his deep rumble.

Damnation smiled. There was not a breath of happiness in it. “I, too, will go where I wish.” He turned back to gazing out his window at the lovely world outside, and said no more.

 

***

 

Thirty minutes later, both the Jeep and the Pontiac had returned to the farm owned by Diego Hill; the two drivers, Peter and Andre, were out on the porch having a conversation on speakerphone with Two-Saint, while the three crewmen, sitting within the main room of the house, listened to the instructions of their captain, and held their tongues, unwillingly.

The drivers received their final orders, and hung up the phone. Exchanging a long look, they went to the Irishmen. Damnation quirked an eyebrow by way of questioning; Andre said, “He agreed. I take you dere, and he send a bus.”

Damnation stood, nodding. “We will wait there for the – what is’t? A bus?”

Now Andre quirked an eyebrow. “A bus. A school bus Two-Saint has. We use it to bring workers to de fields when we need to harvest. Or we did.” He glanced at Peter. “I tink it will still run.” Peter nodded, and Andre looked back at Damnation. “It will carry all of dem. No problem.”

Damnation nodded. He looked at his three men. “Then we will depart. If la policia are quicker in their hunt than we wish, I would not be found here, where you all may be taken with me.” A grin, this one with some actual humor, curved his mouth. “Mayhap they will take me at the cove, and arrest all of our enemies as well. ‘Twould give me some fine company in gaol, would it not?”

His crewmen, however, had no humor at all in their faces. Lynch spoke up, his voice cracking like an adolescent’s: “Ye cannot be sure, Nate – ye don’t know that the Grace has lost her – her miracle.”

Damnation’s eyes turned sad. “Aye, you’re right, lad. But I am sure that there is no other way to accomplish what must be done. We four cannot fight them free. There is no other trade that Okagaweh will make.” He walked to where Lynch had turned away, his arms wrapped tightly around his slender frame as though he must hold something powerful inside at all costs. Damnation put a hand on his shoulder, and the youth shivered. “Balthazar, it is my duty. They are my men.” He leaned close and whispered, so softly that the other men in the room could not hear. “I would be good.”

Tears erupted from Lynch’s eyes, and with a sob, he turned and ran from the room. Damnation watched him go; the other men looked away.

Then Damnation turned to Kelly and MacManus. “Right. Remember how I want you to distribute my effects.”

MacManus nodded. “Aye sir. The logbook to Vaughn, and your sword to Ian O’Gallows, if he’ll take command, else to McTeigue.”

Damnation nodded. “Aye. And here –” He drew the revolver from his belt, opened the cylinder, removed and replaced three of the shells, and then handed it to MacManus. “For ye, Sergeant. With my thanks.” MacManus took the gun with a nod, and Damnation shook his hand, firmly, finally. Then the captain turned to Kelly. He reached to his ear, where a gold ring was clasped; with a twist of his fingers he broke the soldered joint, unthreaded it from the hole in his earlobe, and then pinched the soft metal back together. “Give this to Lynch, will ye? And – see that the lad is well.”

Kelly took the ring, and nodded. “Aye, Captain.” He shook Damnation’s hand as well, and then pulled him in for a fierce one-armed hug. Damnation hugged the large man back, and then stepped back. The two nodded to each other, and Kelly murmured, “Luck to ye, sir.”

With a gesture to Andre, Damnation Kane left the farmhouse then, to go to meet his fate.

 

*************************************************************************************

Hello! I hope you’ve been enjoying the story so far; we have now come to the end of the second book of Damnation’s adventures (You can tell because now it is narration rather than a log), and there are only a few chapters remaining, absolutely full of surprises and shocks, action and adventure.

I want to make a request of anyone reading this blog. I am trying, together with a good friend of mine who is a self-published poet, to take advantage of an incredible opportunity to sell Damnation’s adventures to a wider audience. But I need support to make it happen. Please, please, if you can, help me to push this story, and my own story, forward to the next level.

Thank you for reading, and thank you for your support.

–Dusty Humphrey

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

Log #78: Meeting With The Devil

Captain’s Log, October the Sixth: Midnight

 

By the Morrigan, patience is – no. She is not the deity I should swear to, if patience is what I seek. The war goddess, the devourer; this is not her virtue. I should swear by Lugh, the long-handed, and by Goibniu; the smiths, the craftsmen. They know the necessity of waiting.

But by all the gods, and all the devils, it is hard.

I will record what has transpired this evening so that I may gather my wits about me, for I have need of them all. There is more work still to be done, this night. I will wait while Andre goes to confer with Two-Saint; the passage of hours cannot but help the chances of our success, and so it is not a hindrance that he has gone. It is not our endeavor that is at risk, only my sanity. Only my sanity.

I will write. I will write slowly, recording all detail, and empty my mind of all thoughts, the better to prepare myself for the course ahead.

It is, in  truth, the better way, for in haste lies folly, rash mistakes that can – and often do, and often have in mine own life’s book – mount and multiply into a tidal wave of error that may wash over a man and sink his every plan. A minor instance: the name I learned this evening past, I heard at the outset as Irish: it begins with the O of our fathers, and I did not consider the unlikelihood of the man who bears it having Irish blood flowing under his black skin. When I conferred with Andre as to the identity of our foe, I gave the name a touch of the lilt of Erin – O’Caughgaweay, perhaps; enough of an Irishing that Andre did not recognize the appellation. After many repetitions as we drove the Jeep-beast to the house of Diego Colina, it struck him that what I tried to speak was in truth the name Okagaweh. It is African, Andre told me, after giving me the proper shape of it. That name, he knew. That name, he must speak of to Two-Saint.

And I must wait.

And record how I did learn it.

I want to trust the man. My heart and my wits are unified in urging me to do so; his demeanor was sober and sincere – and utterly without hope. That last was perhaps the most persuasive, as it showed me that he has no hidden motivations, no subtle intentions; he has thrown his longings and ambitions over the rail, and allows the winds of the world to carry him wheresoever they will. But is despair to serve as proof of constancy?

Was Lucifer himself not the most beautiful and best loved of the angels until the very moment of his fall? I wonder, when the Morning Star rebelled against the Almighty – did he have hope of success? Or was his despair so absolute that even his own immolation would be preferable to continuing to bear that weight of hopelessness? I can not rely on my impression of this man. But then, I am not God, nor is that creature with his claws sunk into the man’s throat – I remember the dream I had in Charleston, while delirious at St. Vincent’s hospice, and that, at least, seems to have been a true vision.

But by the gods, I trust my own prophesy no better than that man I saw today.

Aye. I must rely on him. ‘Tis a trap to think that he hath changed his colors, his blood, his loyalty. I do stand assured that his words were true; but I will remember that the Devil may cite scripture to his purpose. And he is the Devil’s Lash, and may use true words to work sinister plots. I will use his truth to accomplish my own purpose, and not to serve his.

***

I spoke with Captain Nicholas Hobbes this day.

We did return after supper to Jack’s Bar and Grill, where Andre, as the least obtrusive of our company, stepped within the common room to seek an English sailor within. Having sighted one such – and only one, showing that our luck, or providence, or the favor of my mother’s gods for her blood in me, has not wholly abandoned us – he withdrew and kept a watch without while Kelly and I strode boldly in to confront whatever man Jack of the Sea-Cat was imbibing ale by his lonesome.

When I saw that it was Hobbes himself; when I saw that he sat in a shadowed corner, at a table for two, with a bottle of wine before him; when I saw that, in all particulars that I could recall, the interior of this establishment coincided precisely with my dream – I felt a cold hand grip my heart, my breath, my thoughts. I stopped instantly, looking (without any need to search the space, so familiar was it to me) to the counter to see if Donal Carter was serving plates from the body of my cousin Hugh Moran.

God rest his soul. And forgive me for cursing him for his betrayal. And may it please thee, Lord – or thee, Dagda, Morrigan, Manannán Mac Lir who watcheth over sailors – protect me from what enchantment has placed foreknowledge into my mind. I do not seek or wish to possess the powers of the gods. I wish only to free my ship and my men. But let Thy will be done, whosoever’s gaze be peering down on me. Let it be done.

Carter was not there. My sudden movement and abrupt halt caught Hobbes’s attention, and he rose from his seat, staring at Kelly and I – myself being the main target of his attention, as he and I have clapped glims on one another ere now. I saw that my dream had also been wrong in placing the dark man in Hobbes’s own shadow, hands about his throat – though I would soon learn that my dream had more of truth than did my eyes, in this instance.

If I can trust Hobbes’s words, that is.

His first words then were plain enough: “You came,” he said, and “Thank God Almighty.”

“I have not use for your English God, Hobbes, and I have it on good authority that he wants naught to do with me,” I spat through gritted teeth, knowing I should not offend him with such blasphemy until after he had give me the intelligence I needed, but unable to stop the words unspoken.

He blinked – and then he smiled. It was a grotesque smile, the smile of a skull or a days-dead corpse. “Then for the nonce, I will thank what heathen gods receive your prayers, or even the Devil himself, for guiding your steps here. And if God will not forgive me the disloyal words, well – ‘tis no less than the wages of what I have done in His name.” Then he clicked his heels together and bowed formally to me. “Captain Kane, I believe we have never been formally introduced. I am Nicholas Hobbes. Will you join me, please, sir?” He gestured to his table, and then signaled the publican. “Another glass and a new bottle of the same – or two new glasses?” he added, looking at Kelly and then back to me.

I half-turned to Kelly, though I kept my eyes hove tight to Hobbes. “Check the place,” I said to my bosun in Irish. “Make sure we’re alone. then have your drink at the counter, aye? Let me speak to the bastard alone.”

“Aye, Captain,” he rumbled, and then walked the room’s perimeter. I turned back to Hobbes and said, “He’ll see that we two are not disturbed. Captain.” Hobbes nodded and bowed again, repeating his request for a bottle and a glass, and then we sat.

When the bottle came, he let me remove the stopper and pour, and then he raised his glass. “To your very good health, for all the good it will do you here,” he said, and then he took a drink, swallowed, and sat still, waiting, so that I would know it was not poisoned when he did not die. After a moment I lifted my glass to him and said, “May your bones sink to the depths with your ship, and your soul go lower still,” and then I drank deep.

Hobbes laughed. Not long nor vigorously; he did not appear well. Pale as an Englishman, still he should have been sun-browned as sailors are, especially after some time in this island clime; but he appeared sallow and wan, having left behind his habitual thinness for a cadaver’s wasted condition, his cheeks hollow, his eyes shadowed and haunted. He raised his glass once more and drank to my toast, then put the wine down and said, “My soul is already in Hell, Kane. Sent there by you and your deviltry, and by my own sinful pride and wrath.”

I took another sip. The wine was not good, but not the worst I have drunk. In truth I wanted to cast the glass aside, take up the bottle and club him to death with it, crying, “Where is my ship, you English whoreson bastard?” with every blow. But if polite discourse over wine would gain me the intelligence I required, then I would forego the bludgeoning.

For now.

“I’ll admit – nay, I’ll boast – that I did sink your ship, Hobbes, but I think I do not bear responsibility for the condition or direction of your soul. Either men choose their own fates, and so you chose yours, or else your Almighty God has foreordained your doom, not I.”

He nodded. “True, you and that accursed ship of yours did not choose my course for me, you merely tempted my righteousness as an Englishman and a Christian. I will step aside from the question of man’s will or God’s will; it all comes to the same, for it if was my will that chose, then I was following God’s injunction in his Holy Book: Thou shalt not suffer a witch –”

“To live,” I interrupted and completed for him. Now it was my turn to voice a humorless laugh. “Ah, Hobbes, if ye were another man I would keep to my vow, made many years ago, to murder any man who spat that bloody verse at me. But for ye, I’ll simply take solace in the knowledge that the woman I would murder ye for is now turned to dust in her grave – and that, if I am not mistook, that ‘twas her witchcraft, as ye say, that has sent ye here to the ends of the Earth.”

He leaned forward eagerly – and I clapped hand on my wheel-gun as he did so. He saw me, and raised his empty hands as sign of peaceful intent, sitting back in his seat slowly. But his hands were tightened into whitened fists on the table, and they trembled. “So you know, then, the means and manner of our exile into this Hell?”

I frowned at him. “Think ye this be Hell, man? D’ye not know our circumstances?”

He nodded. His eyes glittered now, but it was a poisonous energy that animated them. “I know, Kane. It is the year of our Lord 2011, and this is the island of Bermuda – still English soil, for all the good it does now to know it.” Then he leaned forward again, slowly. “Make no mistake, Kane: this is Hell.” He looked down into his wine, and drained the glass at a draught, his lips twisting against the sour taste. Or perhaps it was the sour taste of the words he spoke then, softly: “And I am allied with the Devil himself.”

So it seemed Hobbes was unfortunate in his choice of friends. Well, bad cess to him who deserves it, thought I. But I had had enough of this merry banter, so as Hobbes poured more wine, I asked, “Do you hold my ship and my crew, or does the Devil have them now?” As I said it, though I had but referred to his own naming of his ally the Shadowman, I felt an icy cold spread though me, and of a sudden I felt sure that the Devil indeed did have my men and my Grace; that all were dead and obliterated, and the Devil’s Lash would now smile and tell me so with both pleasure and pride. Then I would kill him.

He smiled. He said, “I have nothing, Kane. Even what I hold in these hands is the possession of the Devil, for he owns all of me.” He sipped his wine as I felt a roaring in my head, in my heart, and I prepared myself to shatter him. But then he said, calmly uttering a matter of fact, “Your ship is manned by my crew. Your crew is held by men of this time, who serve the same incarnate evil as do I. Both are in the same locale.” He sipped his wine again and the breath slipped out of me, taking the killing rage with it.

“Where?” I asked him, ready to begin the bludgeoning if he equivocated or refused to tell me.

He did not. “Have you a guide who knows this isle?” At my nod, he said, “Then tell him to lead you to the end of Old King’s Road, to the beach between the Serpent’s Fangs. Your men are held at the house there, a house owned by a man named Fournier, Michel Fournier. But they are in truth held by the same devil who holds the souls of my men in his black hands.”

“My ship is there as well?” I asked him. I knew not what he intended, in simply revealing this to me without coercion; I presumed it was a trap – though I could not imagine that he had predicted that I would seek him out himself. Perhaps he feared that I was armed, and eager to do him violence? Did he speak out of fear for his life? He did not have the manner of a man afraid, but seemed entirely calm.

He did show some spirit then: he leaned forward, his hands flat on the table, his fingers spread wide. “What are your intentions, Kane? Will you kill me? Is that your desire?”

I leaned forward as well, until we were nigh touching one another. “If I wanted ye dead, Hobbes, ye’d be bleeding on this floor.”

He did not flinch away from my gaze, though I doubt not he could see that his spilled blood was indeed my heart’s desire. “As I thought when you came in here and did not kill me on the instant. Then what is it you wish dearer than my death?”

I blinked at this. Then, though I know not why I would admit anything to this black-hearted villain, I said, “I want to go home.”

His eyes shone, and did not blink as he looked deep into mine. “And do you know how to accomplish that?”

I sat back, and saw, even before I spoke, the light go out of Hobbes’s eyes. “I do not. I think I know how we were brought here, I and my men and the Grace, but I do not know how to return. And I have not the least scrap of a notion why your ship came along with us.”

He turned one hand palm up. “We were grappled onto you.”

I nodded. “Aye. Perhaps it is so simple.”

He breathed out air in a sort of tired laugh. “It is always simple to find the way to Hell, Kane. Getting back – now that is the difficulty.” He leaned back. “Do you mean to seek that path?”

I shook my head. I looked around, saw Kelly drinking at the counter, paying us no mind, too far away to overhear. “I want only to free my ship and my crew, Hobbes.”

He looked into me for a long moment. Then he spoke. “Your ship will never be yours again. He has it, he desires it; you will not take it from him.”

I pounded a fist down on the table, shaking the bottle and the glasses. “No man can keep my ship while I live!” I barked at him.

He chuckled. “He is no man.”

I threw up my hands. “I have heard you called the Devil, too, Hobbes, have thought it myself, but you are a man, nonetheless. Who is this devil of yours that he has so unmanned the Devil’s Lash?”

He looked down at his hands, toying idly with his empty wineglass. “His name is Lyle Okagaweh. But that is only the name he goes by. He is a demon, who speaks to other demons, and binds them to his will. I have seen this with my own eyes, have head voices speak from flames, from air. I have seen wonders that have nothing of goodness in them, nothing of God. He has powers I cannot describe, and which you cannot overcome.”

“How do you presume to know what I can or cannot do?” I asked, perhaps peevishly.

Hobbes laughed – and if I had done nothing else this day, at the least I gave Hobbes back his humor. “You are a formidable foe, Kane, but if you could have bested me as easily as the Shadowman has, you would have done it ere I chased you across the ocean. And if you could defeat him directly,” he spread his hands, “he would not have your ship, and you would have no need to speak to me.”

He leaned forward once more. “Listen to me, Kane. The ship is out of your reach – but you may save your men. Despite all the gulf that yawns between you and I, as one captain to another, as one man to another, I pray you – I beg you: save them. Save them from the Shadowman. He is doing to them what he did to my men: he gives them what he says is physic, what he says will cure their hurts and heal their spirits. And it does bring them peace and joy, at first – but it takes their will from them, even as it gives them bliss. It makes men into slaves, into beasts without courage or strength. It makes them his.” He paused to see that I understood. I did, and he went on. “He has only begun with your men. My men have been in his clutches now for months, and nearly all of them are lost. You must do what I could not. Save the men who gave you their loyalty, who sailed the seas with you.”

I considered him. I believed him, but – “If you are so certain that this Shadowman of yours cannot be beaten by the likes of me, how am I to free my men from him?”

He smiled at that, and poured the last of the wine into my glass. “Because, my dear fellow, he does not want your men, other than as mere counters to add to his pile. He wants you. If you offer yourself in exchange for the freedom of your crew, then it will be accomplished, on the instant, without any struggle whatever.”

I frowned at him. “You want me to surrender,” I said.

Hobbes shook his head. “I want to destroy the both of you myself, you Irish bastard.” I saw the gleam in his eye, and knew that he spoke only the truth. He stood from the table, drawing a dollar-paper of a sort I had not seen before from his pocket, dropping it beside the wine bottle. “I am telling you the only way you will save your men. For their sake, not yours or mine. And only because they are men, and some of them are Christians. Even if they are Irish.”

And with that, he left. Kelly rose, prepared to seize Hobbes, but I waved him back. Hobbes had told me what I needed to know, and more besides.

My path is clear.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #77: A New Ally

Log, October the Sixth

 

At last, at last! Four useless days spent roaming this damned island, seeking something which, as we did learn today, we most likely would not ever have found. Four days wasted, even more so than we knew. But today, this day – we have found a path. We have plotted our course, with a destination in mind, and even in sight.

Pray that this course be true.

We began this day just as we have the others since we here arrived: we broke our fast after aiding Diego with the tasks of the farm, and then our pilot – a dark-skinned man named Andre – arrived in a tall, boxy beast-wagon named a Jeep. Kelly and I boarded to the rear bench and without a word of direction or even greeting, Andre cracked the whip, as it were, and our Jeep-beast was off. Shane has told me that his man is not this way, that they take time to discuss the movements and intentions of the day, that they converse as to the known habits and character of their target, the lieutenant Hargreaves. But our man Andre merely takes us to the shore, where Kelly and I strain our eyes looking for that which we seek. For that purpose this Jeep-beast is most well-suited, as it lacks a top deck overhead, and Kelly and I can stand on the bench when the beast is still, and see as from a crow’s nest. But thus far, at each halt we have seen naught, and when we so inform Black Andre, he returns us a grunt, and then off the Jeep-beast goes to the next cove along this island’s interminable north coast. (At the least, we had told each other, this fellow knows what is a cove and which side of the island is north – and does not believe that we Irishmen would be unaware of what direction we faced, or where the ocean should lay; we have know far too many of the people in this time to lack even that much of intelligence and honor. But we have both.)

Today there was somewhat of a difference – a difference that has changed all from dark despair into gleaming hope. Each day that we have searched, we have taken a halt for a midday meal, Andre piloting us to a nearby tavern for sustenance, the which Kelly and I have provided for ourselves and for Andre; this did seem a reasonable fee, since we give the man naught otherwise but courtesy. On this day at the noontide we arrived at Chazzer’s Chicken Shack. We Irishmen disembarked to stretch our legs; meanwhile, Andre sought to stretch other limbs: there was a young lass there, seated alone at a table, drinking from a cup. I’ll say this for our pilot: he has no skill at conversation, but his eye for beauty is beyond reproach; I have rarely seen a fairer lass, her skin the reddish-brown of polished wood, her hair a golden-brown cloud, her form and features flawless and alluring, indeed.

But though Black Andre’s eye for beauty is fine, his prudence is somewhat lacking: only a fool would expect a cailín like that one to visit a tavern unchaperoned. Indeed, near as soon as Andre had taken a seat beside her, and won himself a smile from the lass, her chaperones returned from whence they had gone. There were two: one the young lady’s sweetheart, the second her brother, as they informed Andre with both fury and menace (And I take the liberty of criticizing them for their laxity: they were two, and yet the lass was left by herself? Fortunate that she caught the eye of our Andre, and not some villain who would wish her ill!).

Our man tried to back water, apologizing the while, but the men’s tempers were heated, and they pursued him, trapping him between them and a wall, their fists bunched, their teeth bared, Andre growing more and more desperate as violence began to seem inevitable – to Andre’s detriment, that would be, as both men were larger and stouter than he. That was the moment when Kelly and I returned from our constitutional, and saw our pilot in dire straits. Kelly looked his query at me, and I nodded; I did not think we owed our man loyalty, but still we did require his continued service, and thus his continued consciousness and mobility.

To that end, we approached, and Kelly tapped the nearer fellow, the larger one, on the shoulder. The man turned his head just enough to warn off the interloper – but then he started and turned fully, the truth dawning that Kelly was as much larger than he as he was than Black Andre. “As my friend here has already offered an apology,” quoth Kelly,  “methinks ye should take his interest in the lady as a compliment. Be it not so?”

The man’s mouth flapped a time or two, and then he seemed to bite down on Kelly’s words. “Compliment? Nah, man! Him try play slap an’ tickle wit’ my girl! Wit’ him sista!” The man pointed a shaking finger at Andre, baring his teeth as he growled at Kelly, surely trying to show Kelly that he was not afraid.

Kelly nodded. “Well and sure that does put another face on it.” He frowned at Andre. “Come man, ye canna play the slap-an’-tickle wi’ a lassie.” The frown turned to a grin: and Kelly reached out, quick as a cat, and took the man by the shirt, spun him away from Andre, slammed the man’s back against the wall of the tavern. Kelly pressed close against the man and said, “That’s a man’s game, it is. So, mo chara, d’ye want the slap first, or the tickle?”

The man spluttered. “Tickle? No –”

That was as far as he got before my bosun’s hand, broad as a board and as weighty and hard as the stone he once quarried, smashed into the man’s cheek, throwing him sideways with a cry. Kelly grabbed his shoulder once more with his left hand, pushed the man’s back against the wall once more.

The other man, the girl’s brother, cried out then. “Hey man, you can’t slap a fella!”

Kelly frowned in mock confusion. “But he said he didn’t want the tickle, so that left the slap.” The man had straightened up again, his hand on his own cheek, a trickle of blood oozing from his fast-swelling lip; he snarled and pushed Kelly, hard, knocking my bosun back a step.

Whereupon Kelly drew his knife. Reaching out, he laid the flat of the blade on the man’s hip. “Tickle it is, then. You wish me to tickle your guts with the point of me knife, aye, I can play that game, too.” The smile was gone from Kelly’s face now as he looked into the man’s furious eyes, his own features as blank as a stone.

The other man reached into his pocket, muttering curses. Surely I could not allow him to draw whatever weapon he possessed and wield it against my mate: I drew my wheel-gun from the back of my sash, pointed it at the man’s anger-twisted visage, and then whistled for his attention. He gave it to me, and I said, “Now, now, we mustn’t interfere with the game. ‘Tis only they two who play; you and I shall observe.” I pointed with my left hand at his hand in his pocket, and he drew it out slowly, empty, earning a smile and a nod from me.

The man under Kelly’s knife was shaking, sheened with sweat. “Don’t cut me, man. She my girl, man. What would you do?”

Kelly drew his head back in surprise. “Why, if I loved her, I’d marry her. If I was steppin’ out wi’ her, I surely would not leave her alone to be accosted by rogues. And if she were bothered thus –” Without warning, Kelly took the blade away from the man’s belly, replacing it with his fist, which sunk to the thick wrist in the man’s flabby gut. The man dropped to his knees, choking and wheezing. Kelly finished his sentence: “–I’d strike first, and swiftly. And hard.” He tossed the knife from right hand to left, and then his right fist swung in a short, hard arc, crashing into the man’s head like a cannonball. The man sprawled in the dirt.

I beckoned Andre away, keeping my aim firm on the brother. But, as Kelly turned to face him, the man held up both hands, clearly unwilling to take on such foes at such odds. With barely a glance for the downed man, he sidled over to his sister, took her hand in his, and drew her away. She went where he led, though she stared, mouth agape, at Kelly and I until she vanished around the corner of the tavern.

Kelly sheathed his knife, dusted his hands, and said, “Well and that was sure a fine way to break up a dull watch. Shall we dine?” With a laugh, I tucked away my wheel-gun, took Andre by the elbow, and led him within the establishment to assuage our hunger.

We sat at an empty table, and Andre, mopping the sweat from his brow, told us that he would procure our luncheon, the which he proceeded to do, rushing to the counter, speaking rapidly to the proprietor and then rushing back to our table bearing plates heaped with food. We nodded and tucked in; Andre returned a second time with his own plate and a fistful of cutlery – though when he saw that we made do with hands and belt knives, as jack-tars are wont to, he discarded the pile of silver on the table and went back for three ales. When he joined us once again, I thanked him for the food and drink, and Kelly raised a toast in his honor.

“No, man – I gots to thank you fellows. Them rough boys would have pounded me flat, sure enough.” His expression turned hard, then, his gaze focused out the window; Kelly and I turned to see what he observed, and saw the rogue that Kelly had downed was now back on his feet, and staring dully into the tavern. Kelly turned in his seat to face the man squarely – though he did not pay him the compliment of standing in readiness should the man seek vengeance, for indeed, what risk did such a wilted fool pose to such as we? The man’s slack, stunned eyes came back to sharpness as he recognized Kelly, and then he vanished like a cannonball beneath the waves, bending below the sill and scuttling away like a crab. Kelly and I shared a laugh at that.

Andre did not laugh, but rather shook his head ruefully. “See there? He not even stay down long. He’d’a taken me apart, man. I owe you two big. You didn’t even need to back me up, we not friends.” He knocked on the tabletop. “Well, we friends now. Shake.” He held out his hand, first to Kelly and then to me, the both of us clasping fingers with him. We ate for a few silent moments, and then Andre rose. “Got to make a call,” he told us, stepping outside of the tavern, drawing his cell-phone from his pocket.

I shook my head. “People of this time fear pain more than a man should,” said I. Kelly grunted, raising his cup in agreement.

We had finished the food – quite toothsome it was, a richly spiced dish of rice with chunks of well-seasoned fowl in-mixed – ere Andre returned. He gestured to us with the cell-phone, and took his seat, tucking into his own plate of provender. Mouth full, he leaned close and murmured, “I called Two-Saint. He said I should help you fellas, no problem.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Have you not been helping us these past four days, then?”

He shrugged, swallowed, wiped his lips with one of the strange flimsy cloths they seem to prefer here for such tasks, drawing them from a box filled with the things on the table – though surely they cannot even be cloth, unless it is cloth spun of gossamer and spider-silk. ‘Tis like wiping one’s hands and face with ancient, brittle paper, but what madman uses paper for a napkin? Give me a proper rag, or at least the back of a well-furred dog. “Look man, you fellas here to do a thing for Two-Saint and his boy back state-side, that white boy who smile too much. Two-Saint tell me you need a driver, want to look at coves on the north shore, only the north shore and not in town. Him never say why, what you need to find, what you looking for. So I show you coves, sure – but all the same ones, over and over.”

Damn it. I had suspected that we were surrendering precious time for no reward, calmed in the doldrums by our ignorance and reliance on those who were not our allies. Too, I had thought the coves had begun to look familiar, though I had ascribed such thoughts to the alien character of this island and my disfamiliarity with it; so different did it appear from the Ireland I had known that it all seemed to be one, to my eyes. But it seemed that was not due to my lack of perception, but rather to my guide’s deception.

I must have showed my ire, for Andre held out his hands and pleaded his case. “Hey, man, Two-saint and me aren’t here to do a thing for you: you here to do a thing for him. But,” he patted the air, a gesture of placation, “now I owe you. I do a thing for you. Just tell me what you doing, I make sure it gets done, no waitin’, right now, man. Tell me what you boys up to in Bermuda.”

I murmured something profane and unpleasant under my breath, cradling my head in my hands. Four days we had wasted – and for what? Only because this man could not be concerned with ourselves or our needs? Only when there was a debt to be paid, only when he himself could profit from the act, did he solicit our friendship. These men had little honor, and no sense of hospitality (though indeed I could not place our host Diego into that estimation; he had done quite well by us).

While I grumbled, though, Kelly pushed past the questions of courtesy and seized the main chance. “We’re looking for a ship. A wooden ship, old, two masts, square sails. Not like most ships today.”

Andre frowned at him, wiping his chin with more flimsy paper-cloths. “I don’t know, man. I mean, I can ask around, but nobody really pays no never-mind to ships, you know? I mean, this an island, boats everywhere. Why look at just one when there’s a thousand more on both sides of you?”

“Why look at that lass outside when there are countless others?” I snapped at him. I slapped the table and leaned close. “Because that one lass is worth more than all the rest. Her beauty surpasses them all, draws the eye as a flame draws moths. So is my ship.”

He nodded. “Yeah, man. I hear you. Okay, you looking for the most beauteous ship on the island. Anythin’ else?”

“My crew,” I said. “A dozen men, much like we two, Irish sailors all – or nearly all,” I amended, thinking of Vaughn. “They are held captive near the ship’s berth.”

He shook his head slowly. “If they held captive, nobody gone know about it. Do you know anything ‘bout who got you boat, who hold you men?”

I wished to tell him that my Grace was no boat, no scrap-wood dinghy pounded together by boys in search of adventure, but I held my tongue. Into the space left as I controlled myself Kelly spoke: “They are English. Do you know English from Irish?” He did not sound hopeful as he asked this, as indeed the people of this time have given us little reason to be; with very few exceptions, they have thought every man of us, from the Welshman Vaughn to the half-Scotch O’Gallows, to Salty O’Neill, a Derryman from the northern reaches, to I and my cousins, southrons all – to be English by our accent and speech. But Andre surprised us, for he did smile and nod. “Yea, man. We the last outpost of the British Empire, of course we know an Englishman from an Irishman. So your Irish boys be held by Englishmen, yea?”

“Aye,” I confirmed. “English sailors. Their captain is named Nicholas Hobbes, a tall, gaunt man with not a smile nor a laugh in his soul.”

“There may be men like you, too – Africans,” Kelly added. “With long hair in tangles.”

Andre gave him an incredulous look. “I’m no African, man, I’m black. From the islands, not from the damn Congo.” Kelly nodded, acknowledging the correction, and Andre looked thoughtful. “They got dreads on they side, ah? You know who they are, who they wit’?”

I had a suspicion. But should I tell this man of the one enemy I dreaded most? The Houndman, the dark shadow I had seen in my dream, the one who seemed to have infested and – I would say corrupted, but I think the man was already Hell-black inside his heart – perhaps “allied with,” the Devil’s Lash? I feared that knowledge of the forces arrayed against us would quickly scuttle the man’s newfound willingness to be of genuine service to our quest.

Aye, said I to myself, and if it does, are we any the worse than we’ve been these past days? And weeks? Perhaps the Shadow-man is of this land, and is known. Had not my letter from O’Gallows and Vaughn described a local man of some repute? “Their leader may be a dark-skinned man – a black man, as you say – thin, with a shorn pate. He may be called Houndman, or something similar.”

Andre frowned and he tilted his head. “Houngan? This man, he a houngan?” I halted him and asked after this word. “It mean a priest, a priest of the voodoo.” Then I stopped him once more to ask about that word, the which he also explained.

Witchcraft. Evil, island witchcraft, come from Africa with the slaves. Andre seemed not overly cautious on the matter, discussing it openly without crossing himself as any good Christian would do when speaking of witches and devilry. Bu then, many and many a Christian is quick to cry Witch! where there is merely somewhat outside their familiarity; my mother and her fellow Druids have ever trod circumspectly for such a reason, particularly around the damned English. Most of the sons of Ireland know better, though not all condone the ancient ways – and many a Catholic would cry heresy on a Protestant who might follow some of the old rituals, or the reverse, indeed and aye. But as Andre spoke of it, this voodoo seemed the very heart and name of that dreaded corruption that has sent so many to the stake and the dungeons of the Inquisition.

Alas, as to our immediate need, it appeared that men who called themselves houngans, who purported to practice the voodoo or who did in truth adhere to it, were none too rare on this island. So too black men with tangled hair-locks, what Andre called “dreads.” He did not know this man from my description. But he did say he would make inquiries, and while Kelly and I enjoyed  a second ale, Andre withdrew to use his cell-phone and seek some information.

‘Twas not long then before he struck gold: a man of Andre’s acquaintance knew of a tavern, what he called a bar, that had been enjoying the custom of a large group of English sailors with a dour and humorless master. Andre knew the place; he would drive us there. Quickly we settled our account and went to board the Jeep-beast.

I will abbreviate the recounting thus: we found the tavern, one Jack’s Bar and Grill, scouted it and found it empty of Englishmen; but a cursory interrogation of the proprietor revealed that indeed a number of English sailors were wont to patronize the establishment. We returned to the farmhouse, determined to go back to the place after supper’s hour and seek our quarry then, when they are most likely to be present there; here in this waiting-space I have sat to record this log.

But I must append here one last curiosity: our foray from the tavern to the Jeep-beast was briefly interrupted – by the lass who had started the donnybrook with her temptatious beauty. She had returned, equally enchanted, so it seems, by our man Andre – and, most contemptuous of the ease with which our Kelly had downed her erstwhile paramour, she came seeking a replacement for same.

Now Andre has two reasons to render us loyal service. And a reason to smile while he does so.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #76: Strength

BLog

we ar on bermuda now. me and shayn wach tol police man hargreevs and Captin and kelee wach 4 Grace. we hav ben heer 3 dayz. Captin has not see ship. me and shayn see 2 much hargreevs.

it hurts 2 see Captin. he is so sad. he hav sad hart becuz he and men get trikt by bastard calhoon in charlztun. Captin thinks it his mistayk. his falt. he want to be good. i donnow wy he duz not unnerstan he is good. i think he forget.

i wish i cud tel him.tel him he is good. tel him the trikt is not his falt. he did best he thot and then wen it was bad he tri mor and mayk it best he can. he not srender he never srender he fite 4 men 4 ship 4 onner.

i wish i cud tel him i sorry 4 wut i sed befor. i was rong. i no that now. i wish i cud hold him and kiss him and tel him it wil be best. we wil win at the end.

he need sum 1 2 hold him and kiss him. he duz not need me to be crew man. he needs me 2 be his woman. but i cant be.

can i?

can he luv me and let me luv him? let me hold him and kiss him? giv him. wut is word. ease. comfort. he need comfort. he needs help. befor he laff and joak with us all ways. he nevr sad. nevr loos hart. but now he duz not laff. duz not smiyl. he need comfort. i cud giv it 2 him if he let me.

wil he?

hargreevs is not trubl. he is a blagard a rowg a vilin. shayn and me wach him tak munee from shop men. we wach him thrash a man in allee and tak munee. if hargreevs goz away no 1 sad. every 1 best with no tol police man.

i hav a thot 4 mayk hargreevs go away. no need blud. and i got thot from calhoon. i can not giv Captin comfort and help he needs but i can giv him this.

 

***

 

Log

Three days’ search and no result. How much bloody coastline does this pestilent island possess! How many gods-rotted coves dot this land like pox scars! Damn it all! Where is my Grace!

 

Later

Aye, reading that last, it strikes me that my ship does indeed hold my grace: what goodness my soul possesseth, what virtues of patience, equanimity, duty: all are bound to her. When I have her not, I have them not; and therefore do I explain the terrible and foolhardy choices that I have made. At sea, I am a captain – but on land, I am a fool.

But I did not take up this pen to brood, once again, on my many failures. Instead I wish to record an illuminating conversation I shared this evening with my men, and with our taciturn but worthy host, Diego Hill. (He tells me that his family name is in truth Colina, but the Spanishers being somewhat unwelcome among the peoples of this isle, many of whom are descended from slaves who suffered under the Spaniards or Britishers who fought Spain for generations, he was dubbed with the English meaning of his Spanish name. It strikes me that the old pain that roots this strife hearkens back to my own age: it doth make the time between my birth and now seem less. Any road, he has invited me to use his Christian name, and so I shall.)

We had supped on the last of the yearling goat, cooked with beans and carrots and most hearty, and were seated about the bonfire, it being too close indoors with the damp summer air of this island; the smoke of the fire served to blockade the mosquitoes, as Diego calls them – bitemes, they be to my mind. We were sitting idly, drinking a liquor that Diego brews himself (that fortunately numbs the tongue within but a few sips), Shane and I discussing our progress thus far on our individual quests, when I did realize that Lynch was no longer among us. I inquired where the lad had gone, and Kelly stated that he was around the side of the house: in company with a mechanical contrivance, the which, when brought to life, provides a charge to Lynch’s eyephone. I professed mystification regarding all of this; Diego attempted to elucidate for me, explaining that the contrivance was a generator – which made a loud burring noise that I had heard but not understood – and that the eyephone was electric, he said, and needed “juice” from the generator. Power, he reiterated. He drew a similar ‘phone from his own pocket, explaining that he had poor service, as he called it, but could nonetheless make use of his ‘phone to contact Two-Saint should there be need. I nodded but waved it all away: I do not care for these matters. In truth, I was carping somewhat as to Lynch’s possession of, and by, his eyephone; the lad cannot seem to relinquish it, and now here it is, taking him away from the company of his fellows. But then I minded me of my own intention to quit this company for the good of all, so soon as my ship is recovered and the men freed, and I fell silent.

Shane then spoke into the quiet. “Lynch was wrong, Cap’n.” I looked at him querulously, and he expanded. “Back in Charleston, when he was sayin’ that ye should not ha’ fought that bastard Calhoun. Over the woman, Meredith.” He took a sip from his cup, grimaced, and plashed the rest into the fire, where it swelled the flames for a moment with a snap and a roar, as if a musket had been fired into the night sky. Shane grinned appreciatively and held his cup out to Diego, who refilled it from the jug.

“Think you so?” murmured I, drinking from my own cup. I did not ask him why, then, he had said nothing in my defense when Lynch had abused me for my conduct on the matter.

He nodded. Then he pointed at me – or near me, in truth; he had drunk more than a few cups of Diego’s liquor, which is as potent as it is vile-tasting, and, it seems, as it is flammable – and said, “But mind ye, Cap’n, I do think ye should ha’ put yon strumpet in her place.”

I stared at him across the fire, my own gaze steady as I had had only one or two cups of the liquor. “Should I,” I said, my tone surely more belligerent than curious.

But Shane heard only the words, and he nodded passionately, and sat forward, putting his cup down at his feet. “Aye, sir! Beggin’ pardon, Cap’n, for I don’t mean to tell a man how to handle a woman, but to my eye, that scarlet wench would be far better for a thrashin’. I don’t know the truth of it all wi’ ye and her and Calhoun, but I see how she tangled ye up, Cap’n, like a shark in a net!” He thrust his chin forward with this, his eyes glittering; then he belched, pounded his chest, and sat back. “Woman acts like that, she needs a strong lesson from a man. Teach her who’s in command, and what happens when ye act up against your master. Or behind his back.” He snatched up his cup and took another long drink, finishing with an explosive breath and a shudder as he lowered the cup.

I let the drink  in him bear the weight of my irritation at being called to task by a sailor of my crew; we weren’t speaking of ship’s matters, here, but of matters that any man and every man has an interest in, and some hard-won wisdom to share: and in truth, Shane, as my elder in years, may have had more than I. I decided to plumb his knowledge. “Have ye been wedded, Shane?” I asked him.

He shook his head, which made him wobble on his seat, and then pointed at me again. “Nay, never, but if I did, I’d be sure to keep my woman as a woman should be kept: obedient and quiet. ‘Tis a man’s duty to control his woman.”

“Have ye lived with a woman, then?” I asked, quirking a brow.

“Only until I could not get it up any more!” he said, grasping at his manhood. He burst into a roaring laugh, joined with somewhat less vigor by Kelly and Diego – aye, and by me. But it served to sharpen my thrust.

“Then ye speak not from experience, aye?” I said, taking a drink.

His smile faded and he grew solemn. “Nay, Cap’n. I have experience of these matters. I watched my da wi’ me mum. Me da, he were a hard man, aye, and heavy wi’ his fists. In truth, when I were a wee lad I were a-scairt o’ him. He’d take to me and me brothers now and again. But me mum took more of it, and at first, I hated him for it.”

He sighed and shook his head vigorously, as though seeking to rattle his thoughts into place, or to shake off a black memory, one of those which cling and clutch and claw at a man’s mind until he can pry it loose. He drained the dregs in his cup, perhaps hoping the liquor would weaken the dark thought’s grip, or would give him a better grip on the thoughts he sought (Men often think liquor is efficacious in such matters. We are ever wrong: drink weakens the thoughts you do want, and strengthens those you would avert. We men are fools.), and then he went on.

“But then, when I was eleven years, me da died of the plague. He fought it hard, and Mum near kilt herself trying to nurse him while caring for the children, she did love him so. But the fever took him. And then I learned why Da had been so hard on her. For as soon as he was in his grave, Mum took to the drink herself. She took to the drink like a sailor coming back into port and to the arms of his favorite whore. Soon she drank through what little money that Da saved, and then through the money for our rent, and then, when we were livin’ out in the weather and learnin’ to beg, she drank through the money we should have used for food.” He tried to drink from his cup, and frowned at the emptiness he found there; Diego held out the jug without a word, and Shane thrust his cup in the jug’s direction until it was up-filled and he could drink to drown the taste of what he said next.

“She found us a roof before we died of the cold. I’m happy that I were the eldest, as I think I was the only one who understood why old Tom Farley took us all in. Perhaps I should be grateful as he were a drunkard, or he’d never have taken a woman past 30, wi’ four young’uns and about as many teeth in her head. But he couldn’t see past the mug she kept fillin’, or the bed she filled, too.” He fell silent for a long moment, then he looked around and met each man’s gaze in turn, ending with me. “Me da kept me mum from drinkin’ and whorin’. She were weak, and wi’out a strong man, she fell into wickedness.” He drank from his cup, and then grinned and wiped his chin. “Mind, I’ve the same ways, and am glad of it – but I’ve no wee ones to care for. None as I know of, any road.” He belched. “And I have strength enough to drink meself to the ground but then arise and do my – do my duty.” He raised the cup in a toast, with such vigor he splashed liquor down his arm. “I’m a man!” he said.

I raised my cup to him. “Aye, that ye are, Shane MacManus. A good man.” I leaned over and clacked my cup against his and drank to him – though I did wave off Diego and his jug, for though I may, like Shane, have a man’s strength to drink myself insensate and then carry on the next day, I must also have a captain’s prudence: and strength to soldier on the day after a debauch does not come with the wits to plan, as I must do, when we find the Grace.

If we find the Grace.

Another voice broke the stillness then: that of Kelly Ó Duibhdabhoireann. He spoke softly, staring into the flames all the while as though seeking wisdom there; he did not sip from his cup, though I knew Diego had already refilled it no less than thrice. He did not slur his speech, however, but spoke as clearly as one stone sober.

“My father was strong. He never used his fists; he never had to. Everyone knew that he was the master of our house. When his temper got hot, then would he should at us, and so loud was it that we thought the walls might come down, like the walls of Jericho when Joshua blew his horn.” He smiled, though there was no humor in his one eye. “That is near enough what killed him, finally – the walls came down atop him. He was breaking a new stone face in the quarry, and there was a crack he did not know of, so when he set his bar and pried, half the whole face came down on him. It took me two days to dig him out just so we could bury him again, but we could not have him rest in unholy ground. He was a good man.” He nodded slowly. “I tried to be the man he was, but I don’t have – I don’t have his voice. I can’t shout and bring every person in hearing of me to a dead halt. I could not bring down the walls. Oh, I could break and shape stone with my hands, he taught me all of that, and I’d the size and strength of arm to keep us in coin until the fever took my mother and brother and sisters – but I’m not the man he was. ‘Tis why I’ve never married, for I do not know that I can be the master, as he was.” His gaze flicked to me, then. “’Tis why I’ve allowed as I’ll be your bosun, Captain. I hoped ‘twould make me stronger. I’d like a family. You need the strength of the Almighty to be a father, I think. To be a husband, too.” Shane was nodding in agreement – or perhaps nodding with the liquor, as the words Kelly had put forward were along a somewhat different course than Shane’s.

Still they traveled on the same heading. And I did wonder, then, had I owned strength enough to master Meredith, if our current difficulties could have been avoided. But it did not rest easy in my heart, this conceit that a man must be an Atlas, a Hercules, to take control of a woman, of a marriage. Surely it could explain why my mother never married, as it would take the true Atlas himself to overpower my mother’s boundless strength of heart; that much seemed to ring true. But I did not know if a husband for her would have made our lives better. My mother did not turn to drink as Shane’s had; perhaps if she had – and in truth, taking into consideration the trials and tribulations she faced, I could not blame her if she had turned to drink to dull the pain – then I might see it Shane’s way.

If I was stronger, could I have held Meredith to my chosen course? If I had struck her, as Shane would, it seemed, have wished, would my life and the lives of my men be better, easier, safer? Had I failed them by my scruples against striking a woman?

But there was more to be said yet: for there was another man beside our fire, with his own tale to tell. After Kelly fell silent in turn, of a sudden Diego began to speak, his English strongly accented but intelligible – I will not render its simulacrum here, but record only his meaning.

“My mother met my father when the tree he was cutting down fell on top of him. He had it near cut through and ready to drop, when a great wind came from the ocean – a piece of a hurricane, maybe, or maybe God just sneezed – came from the wrong way and pushed that tree right over backwards, came right down on top of him. Trapped him. He was far from the road, and had no one back at his home to look for him or even know he was gone, so he was stuck there four days with no food and a broken leg. It rained for him, or he’d have died of thirst; as it was, he was dying-sick and mad-tongued with a fever. And then my mother came. She was a young girl, just grown about too old for my grandfather to let her go walking in the woods alone – but not just yet. Good for my father. Good for me.

“She heard him raving with the fever, and she found him under that big old tree. He told her to go get help, find men strong enough to lift that tree off his broken leg, but she just looked at him, looked at the tree, and looked at his axe. Then she took that axe, cut her off a strong branch, and used it to pry that whole tree trunk up far enough to slide a stone under there – she had him move the stone while she held the lever, and she had a time getting him to follow her lead instead of yelling at her to go find men to help. But she did it, and after he braced the tree, she dragged him out from under it. He couldn’t walk, so she made a litter out of branches she cut and tied together with cloth from his pants, which she knew would have to be cut off of him at the doctor’s, anyway. Then she dragged him five miles, up hills and down, through jungle and brush, to town to the doctor to fix his leg and his fever.

“After the doctor cured his fever and set and splinted his leg, my father wouldn’t lie quiet and rest there – said he would rather walk home on one leg. My father, he never got along with other folks so well. His parents died in a hurricane when he was a boy, and he’d lived on his own ever since, earning pennies by sweeping out shops and running errands until he was strong enough to swing an axe, and then he cut wood. The priest in the town, the neighbors, the people who knew him all tried to put him into the orphan’s home that the Catholics had then. But he never would. Nobody could tell him what to do. When they tried to make him live with the nuns at Saint Lucia’s, he ran away, four times, until they stopped trying to keep him there. He used to say that there were only two people who could tell him what to do, and since his father was dead, that left only himself.

“He did not listen to that doctor, that’s for sure, even after he saved my father’s life with that” (I do not know the word – penny shilling? Pennasillion? A medicament, I trust.)  “He said my father must lay in the bed and rest for a month, maybe two, but my father kept standing up on one leg, swaying with the pain and the sickness, pale as a ghost, but standing. And trying to walk. The doctor wanted to hit him, my father told me, just to make him lie down – but he knew my father would have hit back.

“Then my mother came. She’d been visiting while my father healed from the fever, until her father found out that she’d been going to town to sit with a strange young man, and then he forbade her go; until three days later, when she snuck out and went to my father. She found him half out of bed, yelling at the doctor to give him a crutch so he could walk home. He still lived in the same house where his parents had been killed, and in the years since that hurricane blew the roof down on them, he had repaired it and rebuilt it and made it stronger than ever.” Here Diego paused and smiled, nodding at the structure behind us. “This house. It was the only house he ever lived in, and the same for me. My grandparents are where he buried them, over on that hill, and he and my mother are beside them, where I buried them.

“My mother walked in, and my father stopped yelling. He looked at her. He was not a good man with words, but he thanked her for saving his life. She looked at the doctor and said, ‘If he goes home, will the fever come back?’ Doctor said no, the fever was cured, but he needed to stay off his leg and let it heal – he broke the strong bone, the thigh bone, and it needed proper rest or it would never be right again.

“She nodded, and then she helped my father stand and lean on her. ‘I’ll be your crutch,’ she told him. ‘I’ll hold you up until you can stand alone.’ And then she walked him home, a young girl holding up a grown man for a full day’s travel.

“She got him home, she put him in his bed – and then she made him stay there. She tended his animals. The chickens and the goats had run off into the jungle while he was gone, but she gathered them all back again. She cared for his garden. She cleaned the house. And every day, she fought with him when he tried to get up and do for himself. Her father found out, finally, where she’d run off to, and came to get her back; but she wouldn’t leave, and Grandfather couldn’t make her: my father had a gun for hunting, and she threatened her own father with it. Said she had taken on a duty, and she’d be damned if she left it unfinished.

“She nearly had to use that gun on my father, before his healing time was done. She couldn’t keep him in the bed, but had to let him limp around and do the work he could on one leg and a crutch. But she got him to lie still by teaching him to read, as she’d learned from the nuns but he never had.”

Diego smiled again. “Then towards the end, when his leg was mended but not yet strong and true, she found another way to keep him in the bed. Nine months later, I was born. My mother was fifteen years old.” His smile faded then, and he looked down at the jug in his hand. “My father was strong. My mother was strong. But I am not. I think maybe because they tried to protect me and keep me from the troubles they had. And so because my life was soft, I grew soft. I don’t know now if that’s why the heroine got me, or if I could have been a good man if I’d never touched that stuff, if it made me weak or if my weakness made me need it, but it got me. It took a long time for it to break me, and before it did, I seemed like a man, on the outside. Nobody could tell that it hollowed me out, inside.

“Except my mother. She knew. And when my girl and I made a baby, and I wanted to marry her, my mother told me: ‘No. That girl’s no good for you, my son. And you are no good for her, nor for that baby she’s carrying, either.’ She took my chin in her hand, she made me look her in the eye. She told me, ‘This ends bad.’

“And she was right. Of course. She could see the weakness in me, in my woman. The same weakness that made me get high, get drunk, all the time. We were high when we made the baby, high when we got married. She was high when the baby was born – our little girl. We were both high when the baby died. Soon after, she oh-deed. I buried her and our daughter. Then I lose my mind, and when I come out of it, a man is dead with my knife in him, and I’m in a prison cell. I stayed there ten years. I got clean, but I didn’t get strong. When I got out, I came back home, with my mother and father, so they could be strong for me. They kept me away from the heroine. I took to the drink anyway; they couldn’t fight that weakness for me. But at least I had enough strength to keep away from another wife, from more children. I can’t dig any more graves.”

Diego took a drink from his jug then. He looked around at all of us, one at a time. “You’ve got it wrong,” he said to Shane, his voice low, calm, without accusation, but with true assurance. “Your mother was weak, you said it and it’s true. She didn’t need your father’s strength to make her good, she needed her own strength. She stole your father’s strength, and that’s what killed him.” He turned to Kelly. “Your mother, too, was weak, though not so weak as his,” he said, nodding towards Shane, who was frowning into his cup and considering Diego’s words – I could have told him that the man had hit the target dead center, but methinks that, though the liquor slowed it, that same thought was creeping through Shane’s mind. “But when your father died,” Diego went on, “she had your strength to go on with.”

Now he looked squarely at me. “You’re a strong man. You don’t need a woman who will bend to your will. You need a woman with the strength to match it. If you mean to marry and have sons, you must have a wife with the strength to rule that house. Your strength is for outside the house. You’re a captain, yes? Of a ship, somewhere? You look for it now?”

I nodded, though after a moment of hesitation. But for the nonce, ‘tis still true, and so – “Aye,” I confirmed.

He leaned forwards. “Your strength is there. Your men, your ship. If you must use that strength at home, too?” He sat back, holding one hand palm-up. “Not enough. Somewhere, it will fail.” His eyes turned sad. “I was not strong enough for my wife, for my family. The drugs and the drink made me weak, and I let them.” He gazed long at the jug in his hand, and then he upended it and drank deeply, his throat working as he swallowed the liquor. He lowered the jug again with a burst of breath, then coughed. Then he said, “My wife and daughter are buried with my parents and grandparents, with everyone who was stronger than me. Better than me.” He stood, handing the jug to Shane, who took it numbly. Looking down at me, Diego said, “Find a strong woman, one who will hold you up when you cannot stand alone. Be strong enough to hold her up when she needs you. If you can’t, then spare everyone pain: live alone and drink.”

He walked unsteadily into the house. As he did, I saw that Lynch had come to stand in the doorway, and he moved aside and let Diego pass within. Then Lynch looked at me, and held my eyes with his for a great span of time.

Neither of us let our gaze fall.

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

Log #72: Parlay

Log

October 2

 

Lynch has had word from Calhoun. We will parlay with him this eve at a tavern called BuckaRudy’s. Lynch has somehow located a map of this city on his eye-phone, and so we are setting out now, as it is a distance of some five miles from our camp. We have considered plundering a beast-wagon, but there are too many possible avenues towards failure: it may be of a sort we can not manage, we may not find the key that will unlock its motion, or la policia may hunt us down, especially if we stay within the city’s bounds. We have observed many and many a beast-wagon bearing the colors and pennants of la policia here; they roam constantly like a pack of mongrel dogs at a fish market. They would catch us up quickly. We could murder a beast-wagon’s master and be assured of our possession of a functioning wagon – but I do not wish to commit more murders. Not when our last blood-letting has brought us to this pass, serving as dogsbodies to a cur.

Nay. We will walk to meet our – master. Call it penance. Christ, but I’d wear a hair shirt and a crown of bloody thorns if I could absolve my men of their sins committed in my name. But my name is not Jesus of Nazareth.

My name is their doom.

 

Later

I have discovered that I have the capacity to hold my temper and my tongue. I have discovered also that so doing has burned my soul, my mind, my strength, all to ashes. I feel naught but gray cold, and sure I am that a stiff gale would cast me out into the darkness, scatter me to the points of the compass and out of the knowledge of men. Sure I am, as well, that such would be a better fate than servitude under that capering jackal Calhoun.

I record all of this precisely, so that I may take to heart, what Calhoun is, and the depths of my failure in trusting him.

We arrived at this BuckaRudy’s tavern before the appointed hour and with a great thirst, owing both to our long tramp across this city and our despondency over our circumstances. I wished to grip tight to my wits for the parlay, and so asked only for ale, but Shane and Kelly bought a bottle of whiskey to share, and wasted no time in emptying it down their gullets and ordering a second. Lynch asked for another of his root beers; he has tired of being told that he is too young for a man’s drink – this brave youth who has stood beside the stoutest of Irishmen, who has both spilled and shed blood – and so he makes do with a lad’s refreshment (Though of course, some of the whiskey made it into his cup). Too, he sees little cause to celebrate. He wished to converse with me, to attempt to lay a strategy for our proceeding to Bermuda, but I cannot; I have no wish to presume command, to give orders, to make decisions. I will merely do as I am told until I can free myself of my responsibilities. The weight of them is crushing me. So we sat and drank in sullen silence until Calhoun arrived, a full half of an hour past the appointed time, the laggard.

He smirked and clapped me on the back when he did come: that was the first flame that I had to smother inside of me, lest I stand and cut his gizzard out with my boot knife. “How you boys doin’ tonight?” he asked, in jolly tones. “Havin’ a good time? Aint this place the shit?” He signaled to the barkeep, hollered for a bud (To my consternation: what have flowers to do with drinking?), and brought another chair to our table.

To the very depths of my soul – and it has sunk deep, these past days – I had no wish to converse with that pox pustule on a hog’s arse. But Lynch was pale and wide-eyed, clearly ready to draw steel as he had the last time they two had exchanged words; and Shane and Kelly, though they blinked slow and bleary-eyed at him, still they bared their teeth and clenched their fists; if I did not speak for us all, and continue this parlay in a peaceful manner, sure and the three of them would spill blood. And then be clapped in the gaol for it.

“Aye,” I said, and every word tasted and smelt of ash. “’Tis a fine tavern. And we be well, as well as we can be.” I leaned closer. “We stand ready to depart, so soon as our path be clear. Be it so?”

Calhoun smiled his wolf’s grin at my ire, my impatience. “Woe, woe – hold on, pals! I aint even got my beer yet!”

Lynch stood, knocking back his chair; his hand was under his shirt, the which he had pulled over his sash to conceal his armament. “By the Lord of Hosts, you strutting cockerel, I will tear off your ballocks and pin them to your ears if you make mock of us!” By his last word, I was standing as well, a hand on his wrist, trying to calm him and ease him back into his seat. He looked around, at my urging; he saw that he had drawn the attention of the taverngoers, and he sat down once more, as quickly as he had risen – but with his hand still inside his shirt.

A barmaid, wearing a pretty frown, brought Calhoun’s ale on a tray. “You boys all right?” she inquired. “Ever’body doin’ O’Kay?”

Calhoun took his ale with a broad grin and drank from the bottle, blowing out a satisfied sigh. “We’re doin’ better than O’Kay, darlin’—we’re as fine as wine in the sunshine.” She looked to the rest of us, still frowning prettily – but then she jumped, as Calhoun pinched her bottom. She shook her head and departed angry, as Calhoun guffawed uproariously.

Lynch leaned forward and slapped the table. “We be here not for pleasure, ye dog! And remember that ye have no hold over me, and my patience with ye is near it’s end!”

Calhoun finished his laugh, smiled at Lynch, scratched his belly, drank from his ale. Then he leaned forward to speak in a gentle tone of false sympathy. “Hey –” he looked to me, feigning confusion though a hint of low humor shone in his shite-colored eyes. “How come ye‘all aint stayin’ at Merry’s no more? I went there lookin’ for you, Damny – hey, that’s pretty good, aint it?” And then he began singing. “Ohhh Damny boy, the pipes, the pipes are callin’!” His voice rose to a bellow, and he capped his caterwauling with another mocking belly-laugh. Lynch snarled and started to stand again – but I forestalled him with a hand on his shoulder. “We are observed,” I hissed at him in Irish, and he looked around the room; Calhoun’s antics had drawn the attention of half of the patrons: as the dog had surely intended. Lynch sat back down.

Calhoun returned to his topic of discussion, the which I had suspected he would raise. He had won, after all, and I doubt if Brick Calhoun has ever failed to gloat, even once in his pestiferous life. “I guess you ‘n’ Merry are on the outs, huh? That’s too bad, Damn – hey, that’s a damn shame,” and he guffawed again, clashing his bottle of ale against mine so vigorously that foam sprayed from both, spattering my men, who snarled and moved forward; they drew back once more at my calming gesture. I needed to bring this gathering to an end, before it reached the end my men so eagerly sought.

“Aye,” said I, and drank from my ale – the which I did not enjoy (I do not understand the foam. Why does their ale froth so? And why is it served so bloody cold? ‘Struth, this country’s weather has been overwarm throughout our time here – but the ale in these taverns is so cold that one can not even taste it, as one’s tongue is sheeted in hoarfrost at the first sip. Though perhaps that is the intent, as the ale tastes better when it does not.) but I needed to wash the taste of the ashes of my fallen pride out of my throat. “I have not been a gentleman in my behavior with her, and so I am fallen from her grace.” Even as I used the words, my heart broke in my breast – for I am fallen from my own Grace, as well, and I think I will never regain her again, not truly.

Calhoun nodded, with that sheen of impish delight still in his pig’s eyes. “Yea, I hear you. Well, I tell you what,  it may even be better this way, because if you were still sniffin’ around her, I mighta been forced to show her that viddy-oh,” and here he unpocketed his cell-phone, placing it flat on the table and spinning it idly with his finger, daring me to snatch it, “and that Meredith, she likes her a bad boy to warm up that fireplace o’ hers – but a fellow killin’ fellows? Usin’ some big ol’ pigsticker to cut some son-bitch’s head off, near enough?” He shook his head and pulled from his bottle. “That shit don’t play, Damny-boy. Not with the high and mighty perfect Ms. Vance.”

I nodded. I did not reach for his ‘phone: I do not understand them, but I know that the magic window’s vision is not contained within the window itself, merely seen through it, and so taking it would be useless provocation, and surely Calhoun’s intended goal, an excuse to respond in kind. I swallowed more ash. “Aye. I am not the man for her.” I met his gaze. “I am the man for you. Tell us what you would have of us.”

Calhoun’s eyes widened. “Woe, there, fellows – I aint havin’ none o’ that faggot stuff talked around me.” Why he brought up sticks of wood, I have not a clue. But it seemed to break through his amicable facade, and at last, we got to the meat of the matter. He leaned close and spoke low. “All right, we can get down to business. Aint like you four fuck-ups is my kinda comp’ny. So here’s the deal. I got a buddy, got a sea-plane, six-seater so it’ll take all of you boys, even that big bastard, there,” he said, gesturing at Kelly. “Tomorrow mornin’ he’s gone be at the harbor, Pier Fourteen, and ye’all gone meet him ‘bout six, six-thirty.” He grinned. “Sorry if that’s too early. Say, I hope you fellows can handle a hang-over.” I did not grasp his meaning, and so gestured for him to go on; anything he gibbered out while grinning thus was without import, I knew. “Then ye’all flies to Bermuda. Ye’all ‘ll meet my partner, Two-Saint’s his name – that’s Two, like two,” he held up two fingers, “and saint like New Orlands.”

‘Tis amazing to listen to a kack-headed dullard endeavor to explain somewhat. They attempt to illuminate what does not require illumination – what signifies it if I know the derivation or composition of this man’s name? Will there be hordes clamoring to meet with us following our arrival in Bermuda? Would the game be ended if we went with a man calling himself Three-Saint, or a Two-Devil? And then what the bloody eejit tried to clarify was muddied further by his words, for I knew nothing of this New Orlands, nor its reputation for saintliness; I did, however, know the Catholic saints, as what Irishman does not, even if he holds not with the Catholic Church as I do not. But it signifies not, and so I nodded that I comprehended him – ever the best response to a fool – and he went on.

“Two-Saint gone set ye’all up there with what ye’all gone need to do the job, but since ye’all aint comin’ in official like, ye’all might as well bring your own shootin’ irons – and maybe that big head-chopper you got, Damny. That might come in real handy.”

I nodded. “And what is the task that we will see through to its completion?”

He sat back, staring at me – I will not say thoughtfully, as I doubt he thinks thoughts with any coherence. Perhaps “shrewdly.” He drained the last of his ale, raised the empty bottle over his head and shook it as a signal to the barmaid. Then quoth he, “Why, you gone do what you boys do best.” He dragged his thumb across his throat. I put a hand on Lynch’s arm where it rested on the table; I knew that he would be tempted to make good on Calhoun’s gesture here and now, but with steel rather than flesh drawing a sharp line across that gullet. I knew he would because I was surely tempted myself. “Only difference,” Calhoun went on, his voice pitched only for our ears, “is that ye’all gone be doin’ it to a cop.”

The barmaid brought him ale, and another for me and a third root beer for Lynch. Shane and Kelly were not yet through their second bottle, their drinking having come to a halt as they waited for the signal to out blades and cut Calhoun to ribands. I nodded and thanked her for the fine service; I noted that she gave Calhoun his drink from across the table and out of reach of his hand, a caution that made him grin.  The lass departed and we all drank; then I did ask Calhoun, “What is a cop?”

He choked on his ale, and had I not had a bellyfull of ash, I would have laughed at it; Shane and Kelly did chortle drunkenly, mockingly. Calhoun frowned at them as he wiped his chin with the back of his hand. “Ye’all fuckin’ with me?” he asked.

I gave him a level look, holding tight to my patience. “I can assure you we are not.”

He shook his head. “Jesus wept. A cop, dumb-ass. The five O’. The Po-lease.”

Now I garnered the meaning. “La policia.”

He laughed and shook his head. “Now ye’all fuckin’ meck-see-can. Yea, sure, whatever.” He drank from the bottle, draining it at a draught. Then he rose, and Lynch and I with him – Lynch pushing his chair back and gripping his weapon, lest Calhoun begin a kerfuffle. A few heartbeats later, Shane and Kelly staggered to their feet, as well. “Well boys,” Calhoun said, “it’s been real. But I got to be goin’. Remember, six o’clock in the mornin’, Pier Fourteen. Don’t miss the buss.” He saluted us apishly, a finger tapped to his forehead. “Thanks for the beers. Give that honey a good tip, now, she got a fine ol’ ass.” And then off he went, swaggering out of the door without a glance back.

We paid for the ales (Thankful am I now that Shane and Kelly did see to it that we should have some coin of the realm) and departed. Kelly and Shane were stumbling, but the journey will sober them sufficiently. It does seem as though we are meeting men allied with Calhoun, rather than going into any immediate peril; we must not put trust in them, but neither need we put blades in them. A brief consultation with Lynch, and we two sober men agreed that we should all bear directly for our departure, once we revisited our camp to retrieve our weaponry and what equippage we have accumulated. It took us most of the hours of darkness to walk to the pier, where we now rest, my men sleeping off their drink as I keep this log and Lynch gazes into his eye-phone.

I will speak to him, now. I will make him see that he need not accompany we three, we doomed fools, as we dig deeper into this pit where we be trapped. He is still free, and should remain so: he should remain here. I will tell him.

 

Later

I suppose that it should not surprise me that Lynch should be so adamant that he will stay by our sides, will fight for our cause. I am not certain if this loyalty warms, or chills me.

All I feel is ash.

But soft – I think that our vessel has arrived.

To Bermuda.

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

Log #69: Heavy Men

Warrior Captain’s Log

September the 29th, a Day of Victory

 

HA! The men of the Grace of Ireland play the heavy better than does any rogue of this age! Sure and we fell too heavily for them to bear, this night.

Perhaps I should not gloat: men have died; these past hours their last. But ‘twas not I and ‘twas not my men: we have evaded harm and turned that harm upon our enemies, though they did outnumber us two to one. Three to one if I count not our erstwhile leader into this fray, Brick Calhoun, and as he proved useless when called to the line, I do hereby discount him, and claim the victory and the glory entire for the men of the Grace. The men of Ireland.

Allow me to record the events of this past evening. I find I am too wakeful to seek the embrace of night’s dreams; when a warrior’s blood is roused, it does not calm quickly, nor with ease; perhaps the task of encapsulating these circumstances on these pages will soothe my reddish gaze back into placidity.

Calhoun brought a beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode this eve, the very night selected for this rendezvous. The wagon was in poor repair, even to eyes as inexperienced as mine own in these matters; I could discern gaps where the skin should be whole, rust and scars and wounds where it should be smooth. Even the sound of its rumbling growl minded me of an aged hound with catarrh. Shane did offer to bring Calhoun aboard our wagon-van, but the American insisted on piloting his own sickly beast with myself seated beside him. So Kelly and MacManus did follow in the van, while Lynch, who refuses to have aught to do with the entire endeavor, will remain at Dame Margaret’s to stand guard here. I know not if the lad be more disgusted with Calhoun or myself; I suspect the latter, however. No matter: though he be a doughty ally in a donnybrook, he does not look altogether menacing, the which being our primary purpose, we supposed it were just as well that Lynch would remain behind to watch over our friends and allies. We did not doubt that we three could play the heavy to Calhoun’s heart’s content.

And thus I rode with him, though I maintained a cold distance between us where he would have warm fellow-feeling. He tried to speak with me on many a topic, ranging from women, to female creatures, to the fairer sex, to one woman in particular and common between we two; but I had not interest in plumbing the depths of that cad and his scoundrel’s treatment of Meredith. He did endeavor to speak of the games they play hereabouts, to which he applied the term “sport.” But I have less enchantment with conversation about frolicking and lollygagging than I do in the assertions made vis-a-vis femininity by one Beaujolais “Brick” Calhoun of South Carolina; when he did mention this sport, I withered the topic with a glance; eventually he turned to the confrontation impending, and what I could expect from same.

“Awright,” he slurred, “so these boys we gone meet with, they call theyselves gangstas, you unnerstan?”

Of course I did not, and accordingly I informed him.

“Awwwwright,” he slurred his words even slower, rendering them even more difficult to comprehend, “they think they thugs.”

“And what be this thugs?”

I endeavored not to enjoy his discomfiture overmuch, but the pleasure was undeniable.

“They think they hard, okay?” he said after some time grinding his teeth like millstones, and blowing air out of his nose like a heated bull.

I nodded complacently. “Of course,” I told him, straining to hold the smile off of my face. “’Tis little worse than a man who believes himself greater or more terrible than he truly is. Such vanity is the cause of much suffering, not least for the man himself.” He glanced at me with suspicion in his countenance, but I merely stared forward, my expression clean and pure as new snow.

“Right. So the play is like this. We all, them and me, we in the same business, same line of work, right? Now there’s plenty of room for my operation alongside theirs, but they don’t see it that way. So we, tonight, we gone convince them to share the wealth, like.”

I nodded slowly. “And if they are averse to sharing?”

Calhoun smiled his true smile: the sinister one. “Then we – persuade them.” I nodded again, though I perceived a distinct lack of forethought and consideration in this course he plotted.

I had known men like Calhoun, and circumstances like this one, ere now. In some ways Calhoun was like myself: what he could not earn fairly, he would take at the point of a sword. Well and good, says Damnation Kane of the Brotherhood of the Coast; I cannot even fault him for being unwilling to spend his youth patiently waiting for a more virtuous opportunity; I have writ before of the impatience epitomized in myself and in my brother pirates.

But the differences ‘twixt Calhoun and rovers such as I myself are vast chasms, in truth. For I would not attack a fellow rover in order to take from him some territory he did lay claim to. Especially not in my home port, which I wot Charleston was to this rascal. I cannot fathom a man who, rather than striking out at distant enemies while keeping his blade sheathed and spreading goodwill while he is to home, would turn and fire at the men beside him, walking the same streets, drinking from the same stream, as he himself. Why would he begin a blood feud in his own home? Where he lays his head to rest? Where he is at his most vulnerable and in need of staunch allies – such as these fellow gentlemen of fortune, who, being as they pursued the same endeavors in the same locale, would surely make better shipmates than rivals?

And then, the matter of shipmates. Why would a man setting out on a hazardous course sail alongside utter strangers – particularly one whom he did see as a rival to his would-be love’s affections? Why would you trust a man with whom you had traded blows, to stand at your back with naked steel, while you turned those who could be friends into bitter foes?

Aye. I saw it, too. A man would more likely bring that rival into a trap. I suspected these hard men of Calhoun’s were in truth Calhoun’s men, and rather than a negotiation, we were headed for what Calhoun hoped would be an execution. Shane and Kelly and I had discussed this very possibility earlier this day, and we expected to find ourselves in Calhoun’s snare. But of course, a snare spied before one steps into the loop is more likely to turn deadly for the trapper than the erstwhile prey.

For now, to keep him complacent, I pretended a sincere credulity with Calhoun’s falsehoods, and attempted to appear eager for the task he would set for us. “Be there any limit to how we should persuade them, should the need arise?” asked I.

Calhoun shrugged. “Go as far as you got to, as far as you willing.” He looked over at me while the beast-wagon grumbled and coughed idly, its froward motion stilled at a crossroads. “I guess it depends on just how far you willing to go to win Merry. Remember, she’s the prize here, not my business. That’s my business. Yours is the girl. Aint it?”

I looked him in the eye and nodded. “Aye. For her. I do this for Lady Meredith’s sake.” And I knew this was why his trap was so poorly concealed: he thought me too besotted to see any danger.

He does not know Damnation Kane.

We arrived soon after – ahead of schedule, as Calhoun had intended. The parlay was to occur in a structure named, according to a placard affixed to its street-side face, Parking Garage. ‘Twas like unto a stone marketplace, a wide open space without walls, reached by mounting a spiraled rampart; it seemed there were several marketplaces placed one atop the other in this Garage of Parking. Yet all of them stood empty; of course this was after sun’s set, and the close of the day’s commerce; but none of the stalls held a seller’s structures, not tents nor shelves nor containers; none of them gave evidence of being the sole property of a merchant who has claimed a favored place, and disallows another to take it from him, by building something permanent in the space or by manning it overnight with a guardian. So what use are these many marketplaces, then, if they have no marketeer? I could not see the wisdom in crowding good open spaces atop one another like the decks of a ship; again, these Americalish seem unwilling to live in the vast spaces they possess, preferring to crowd together like men in a prisoning cell. But I did see on the instant how well-suited was this place for this sort of affair: given privacy from passersby because of the heighth of the upper levels, still it was sufficiently open to prevent hidden ambuscades or surreptitiousnesses – or so I thought. We four mounted to the upmost level, open to the sky and bounded on two sides by taller structures, but empty otherwise. Calhoun told off Kelly and MacManus, placing them by the back wall, beside the open doors of our beast-van, while he and I stood in the open center and waited.

We did not wait long. Soon our guests arrived, riding in a wide, flattish barge-like beast-wagon, gliding low to the ground and thumping with what passed for music on these shores. They, too, stopped at the far wall; there were six of them, all Africk by their dark skin, and four did remain inside the wagon while two emerged and came forward to dicker with Calhoun.

I stood, arms crossed and boots planted, awaiting them; Calhoun raised a hand in greeting. The one rogue tossed his head back – much as had that traitorous serpent Shluxer – and said, “You Brick?”

Calhoun nodded. “That’s me.”

The men approached within three paces – just out of arm’s reach, if a man were to reach out with naught in his hand – and stopped. “I’m Vincent. This my boy Elton.”

The second man had eyes only for me, and a grin as insolent as Calhoun’s. “Damn, son – where you find Captain Hook at?” he inquired, and though he had the name wrong, I was impressed that he knew me for a pirate captain.

And perhaps he had been forewarned that one such as I would be present this eventide.

I did not reach for my hilt, but I uncrossed my arms and let my hands hang loose and ready by my belted sash.

Calhoun gestured towards me. “This’s Damnation Kane.” Elton chortled at my name, but I am inured to laughter and gibes, and it bore no sting. Calhoun glanced at me, but said nothing.

Vincent, clearly the man in command, pointed back at my two men by the beast-wagon. “Who they?” he asked.

“They are my men,” I spake, though he had addressed his query to Calhoun. “They will bide as they are unless I hail them. And stay peaceful until, and unless, I command elsewise.”

The fool, Elton, chortled anew. “Oh, you plannin’ to go to war, Cap’n?” He pointed at the sheathed blade on my hip. “With that? Look, V – he brought a sword. That a sword, Cap?”

At this invitation, I drew my blade, to let the steel answer his question for me.

But it seemed that this answer was insufficiently clear, for he scoffed. “That real?”

I raised an eyebrow, turned the sword so that the light, provided mainly by the three beast-wagons, struck the blade. “If your eyes cannot see steel, perhaps you should question your eyes more than the blade, or the mind behind them. For it is not my sword that is dull.”

The mirth drained from his face, and we did lock gazes for a long moment. Then he drew a pistola from his belt. “You see that shit, Cap’n?” he asked, taking aim at me.

Well, and I had drawn first. Since we were still speaking to one another, I felt little threat, for the nonce. “Aye, I see it well, but my eyes were not the ones in question.”

His eyes widened while his mouth pursed smaller. He took a step towards me. “If you see this gun, then why you still mad-doggin’ me? You think I won’t shoot yo ass?” His accent broadened as his agitation increased. No better control of himself than has the mad dog he named me, though for my part, my sword’s point was grounded by my boot.

I smiled for him. “I think you will wish you had,” I told him. Calhoun stepped a pace away from me then, and in that movement, I had my confirmation of his intent – or perhaps of his cowardice. Either impelled me to spring the trap before it could close its teeth on me, and I readied my strike, awaiting my moment.

But Vincent spoke first. “Hold on, hold on – something you white boys should see.” He put two fingers in his mouth and gave a piercing whistle. Coming around a corner on our right flank, where a sign read “STAIRS,” two men stepped forward, both carrying thunder-guns; another man on our left flank, stepping out of shadows atop the structure that stood beside this Parking Garage, took aim along the barrel of his musket at Calhoun and myself. I would have said his distance was too great to threaten me, but I am still unfamiliar with the attributes of these modern weapons.

I tightened my grip on my ancient weapon. Calhoun took another step back.

The fellow Elton took a step towards me. “That’s right, you think we don’t roll deep, motherfucker?”

My patience vanished like clouds at noon. “Do not speak of my mother –” I began.

The man’s brows lowered and he shook the pistola at me. I wished to tell him that such was not the manner of a pistola’s use; I would have to take it from him and instruct him properly. He spat words at me: “Nigga, if I fucked yo mama right in front of you with my big black dick, you shut up and say Thank you, just like she would!” At this sally, his crewmate Vincent laughed, and the rogue turned to grin at his companion, saying, “The fuck this guy thinkin’?”

Dull indeed: I would have to teach him not to lose sight of a threat as well as instructing him in manners. Alas that he would not live to retain the lessons. I struck as he turned: the blade, already bared and in my hand, swung up, the point slicing into the man’s wrist, spraying blood as his pistola clattered to the ground. He clutched at his wound with a cry, and I completed my stroke, spinning the blade over my head, taking a two-handed grip and slashing halfway through the neck of Vincent, my blade too light to part his spine, but sharp enough to spill his life’s blood on the ground.

I looked into the man’s dying eyes. He put a hand on the blade, disbelieving its presence in his throat; his other hand tried to draw a pistola from his belt, but I reached down and plucked it from his hand. “I’m thinking you should not have come here this night,” I told him. Then he fell. A shout rose, and I called out, “Ireland! Kill them all!” and then lunged towards the dull rogue as the shooting began.

It began with our enemies: the man high above fired at me, while the beast-barge before us roared into life, men leaning out of the sides with pistolas and thunder-guns. The two men on our right flank were unready; I heard shouts, but not shots.

Then my men entered the fray. Shane, standing on the port side of the van-wagon, raised the pistola he had concealed in his shirt, took careful aim, and fired several shots at the sharpshooter on the roof beside; the man spun and fell, plummeting down to the Parking Garage. Kelly, in the meantime, drew from the side of our wagon-beast his own particular weapon for this fight: a great jagged stone, the size of two men’s heads. He heaved it to his shoulder, stepped forward, and flung it with all his force: it arced over the battle and plummeted directly through the eye-window of the beast-barge just as it started forward. The glass shattered with a mighty crash and the wagon spun to a halt. This remarkable sight stunned the two flankers, allowing MacManus to turn and fire on them, killing both.

In the meantime, my dull-eyed, flap-tongued rogue appeared not to understand that a sword-slashed wrist will not hoist a pistola; he fumbled for some seconds on the ground for his weapon, cursing steadily; this gave me time to withdraw my sword from his crewmate’s weasand, and find a grip on my newly-acquired pistola, just as he thought to try with his left hand. Too late: I lunged forward, thrusting the point through his right shoulder; he cried out and fell, and I slashed along his leg as he sprawled before me. I trod on his pistola to keep it from his sinister grasp, and then I raised Vincent’s weapon in my left hand, aimed, and fired, killing one of the thunder-guns leaning from the side of the beast-barge. The other men fired at me, and I crouched to make a smaller target of myself as shot droned and screamed around me; Calhoun shouted and ran several steps away, throwing himself to the ground to escape the broadside. Kelly and Shane raced forward, shouting, their guns adding their voices to the battlecry. The rogues in the beast-barge turned their aim on my men, allowing me to aim and fire, killing another; they turned their aim on me, and Shane shot the third man, leaving only the pilot of the barge-wagon. And then Kelly reached the wagon, and, reaching in through the shattered eye-glass, he drew the man half out of the wagon, and beat his head against the metal skin, and then throttled him with those mighty hands, at last breaking the man’s spine with a sharp twist of the neck.

The rest of his crew sent to Hell, I strode to where Elton lay bleeding. He looked up at me, pleading with those dull, stupid eyes.

I swung my blade and cut them out of his head. Then I stabbed him through the heart. I know not how many men of this time that I will have to kill before the learn not to insult my mother to me; but this was one more towards that aim.

“Holy shit!”

It was Calhoun, and I turned to face him, prepared – though unwilling – to kill one more man this night. I whistled, and my men came to my side. But Calhoun was not seeking a fray; rather he was grinning from ear to ear, his eyes as wide as a child’s at a fair-day feast. “You fuckin’ killed all of ‘em! Holy shit!” he cried out again, rising from his knees to his feet, stumbling first towards the two corpses at my feet, then towards the beast-barge and its load of death, and then towards the sprawled and broken limbs of the sharpshooter, closest to where Calhoun had gone to ground.

“Aye, with not a bit of help from thee,” I retorted, stooping to wipe the blood from my blade against the corpse of the fool who had begun this hurly-burly – though I still doubted not that, had the dull lump not spake against my mother, then somewhat else would have set the guns to blasting; this battle had been foreordained ere we arrived at this place, and would have happened whether I drew first blood or no.

Something flashed in Calhoun’s eyes, and he cocked his head, putting his fingers to his ear. “What was that? Say it again?” he asked loudly.

By the Morrigan’s crows, we are surrounded by the daft and the lame: the man who could not see, the crew of rogues who could not aim – all those shots, and my men and I ‘scaped injury entirely – and now this dastard who could not hear? “Without any help from you,” I said loudly. “We three won this day.”

Calhoun grinned like the fool he is and nodded. “That’s right, you boys won, all right. Won big. You done all this, and I aint done nothin’, aint raised a finger. Just standin’ here, this whole time.” He looked around at the carnage, shaking his head and – laughing? “Come on,” he said, “let’s get out of here before the cops show up.” He drew his finger across his throat and then laughed again. “Goddamn!” he said.

Then came we thus away. We drove our wagons some short distance, and then he stopped, unhesitatingly shook my bloody hand with his clean one, and bade us return in our beast-wagon to Dame Margaret’s abode. He waxed poetic to me over our prowess and valor in combat, and said he had no remaining doubts in offering Meredith to me. Then off he drove in his rattling derelict, and MacManus piloted us here, where I have kept this log.

 

Calhoun may have no doubts. I have them all. He was joyed by our victory; yet surely that trap was meant to destroy us. Were those not his allies, called forth to smite his rival? Was that not why, as I had suspected despite the hot blood that made me strike, the dull fool had been so quick to speak curses and draw his pistola? If not, why did Calhoun lead us into a rendezvous that should not, in the common run of events, have ended with our victory? We were outnumbered; why would he expect us to emerge unconquered? If he wanted our defeat, as seemed more likely, then why was he joyed that we did vanquish our foes?

And what of Meredith Vance? Is she mine? Is she Calhoun’s to give to me, like coins for services rendered? Whatever he might answer, or my heart, I think I know what Meredith would say to that. Can I trust that Calhoun will give us the promised aid in reaching my true aim, my beloved Grace? If he will not, will Meredith pilot us there? Should I ask her as though begging a boon of an ally, or as a lover seeking a token of affection? Which will be more like to succeed? Which will be more like to draw her ire?

Aye. We were the heavy tonight. And now it is my heart that is heavy, my heart and my mind. I fear I will sink forever into these murky depths, and emerge nevermore.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #64: A Good Man

Log

September 25

 

The miles this day have passed far more quickly and with greater ease. For my part, I have Balthazar to thank, for his words did settle much of the turmoil in my soul. Now I suffer only from impatience: I must reach Charleston. I must reach Bermuda. I must reach my Grace. But this is a familiar unease, and not a perilous one; it helps to marshal my faculties for the coming struggle.

We did begin this day’s travel in a leisurely fashion; in truth, we remained at the comfortless Comfort Inn until noon. The morning was spent in fulfilling our bargain with the Grables: I and Shane are now capable of piloting a beast-wagon. We have learned to raise it from its slumber, by the turning of a key, and how to goad it forward, turn it, and bring it to a halt. There are finer details, George Grable insists; we do not use our turn-signals as he calls them – but this mystifies me: could a man not see that my beast-wagon be turning, without he sees a lantern’s intermittent glow? Have these people no powers of observation at all? – but in the main, we know the running of these metal beasts. Shane is more skilled than I, to my chagrin; I am too easily vexed by the various knobs, protrusions, mirrors, lights and sounds. Bah. I will sit beside the man at the wheel and navigate, as a captain should.

Lynch has also had a productive day of studies: he has spent the day with young Chester Grable, bent over various magic windows and Verizon stones, hearkening to the youth’s instruction in their purpose and use. Shane’s first time at the beast-wagon’s wheel coursed Lynch and the Grables to a ‘phone store, where Lynch handed over dollar-papers in exchange for a certain time of life for his new eye-phone, given him from the unclaimed and unreturnable loot held by the Grables. He then spent the entirety of our journey this day with his gaze locked to his eye-phone (‘Tis the perfect name, as it is the only object on which his eye rests), his thumbs rubbing over its smooth surface, his company lost to us. He puts me in mind of the Lotus-Eaters. I do hope he will break free of this ensorcelling in time; I have need of him.

Still and all, we have once more course three hundreds of miles; as the sun set, we came into a town of middling size that hight Kenly; tonight we have taken a room at a Quality Inn. The innkeep had but a single large room vacant of guests, a room with two of the larger sort of bed; we asked for a received a cot, as well, the which I have claimed so that I do not have to share. Kelly has sworn that he is sufficiently recovered to sleep on his side, and thus silence his baleful snoring. We shall see. Lynch will once more sleep in the beast-wagon, and MacManus has received permission to use his elbows to remind Kelly not to sleep flat on his back.

At the innkeep’s suggestion, we did dine this eve at a local tavern named Stormin’ Norman’s Barbecue; they served a proper portion of meat, with a most savory sauce. It was a proper tavern, as well, with much company, conversation, and laughter, with a proper sort of music sweetening our hearts as we dined. (Though I was disappointed they did not have wine; still, there was ale to be had for all but Lynch and Chester – Lynch at first complaining, but then happily joining Chester in the consumption of this “root beer.”) Young Chester did not find the music to his taste; he named it “country” and says he prefers wrap; but I thought it most enjoyable, as it sounded in my ears as somewhat akin to the music of home: there were ballads of a mournful or lyrical nature, slow of pace and rich with pathos, and then there were faster tunes like jigs and reels, though none of the company there struck up a dance – perhaps because the music’s players themselves were not present. Many a time have I seen a minstrel cajole and chivvy a crown into dancing to his tune; without that encouragement, the music alone is not enough, it seems, to stir the blood and move the feet of these Americalish.

We then returned to the inn, where we endeavored to instruct George Grable in the art of navigation. We do not have a sextant, but we taught him to reckon direction from the Pole Star (First we taught him how to find it; I cannot understand the depths of ignorance in which these people wallow: how could knowledge as simple as the naming of stars in the sky have been lost?) and how to cast the log to reckon speed; from these, with good charts, he can begin to know his way. We showed him how to use the width of his thumb, two fingers, or his whole hand to measure the sun’s height above the horizon, and from that to know an approximation of his latitude – which is enough for a sailor, aye, if not for a mapmaker. We told him all we could of sailing a ship without being aboard an actual vessel; he seemed most avid to learn what we could tell him, and declared himself well-satisfied by our bargain.

I was not entirely satisfied: because even after I called on him to participate, Lynch did not join in and assist us with teaching Grable what he knows of sailing. He spent the eventide as had spent the day, bent into a gaffer’s hunch over his eye-phone like a monk at his copying. At last I had had enough, and while Shane and Kelly were teaching Grable to estimate wind speed and direction, I went to him and plucked it from his grasp; ‘tis a mark of his distraction that, even though the youth’s reflexes are faster than mine own, he merely blinked owlish at me for a moment, his hand rising, reaching out for the phone like a babe begging for its sugar-tit.

I looked at the ‘phone, but the light irritated my eyes. “Why have you forsaken your mates for this glowing rock?” I growled at him.

He clenched his jaw and furrowed his brow. “I have not,” quoth he.

I quirked an eyebrow at him. “It seems to me that we have been bereft of your company, if not separated from your carcass, all of this past day’s hours.”

He folded his hands in his lap; he was seated on the ground at the edge of the stone field where the beast-wagons are kept, his back against a metal post. “I am learning,” he said, and I noted a glint in his eye.

“Learning what, how to lose your soul into this enchanted mirror?” I asked, waggling the ‘phone by his face.

Now I saw his reflexes: because he snatched the ‘phone from my grasp, quick as a trice. “I’m learning everything,” he said, and then hunched once more, curving his body protectively over the ‘phone like a mother over its babe. I abandoned him to it, though my heart is sore; I hope he is not lost to us. To me. I must no0t ester him over it, I know. I know it.

I had hoped to confide in him, once more.

 

Later

It has been an eventful evening. I feel I do not entirely grasp what these events portend, but I see the weight of them. I feel it.

We retired to the room, Grable the elder having proven he could read the position of the stars and approximate latitude given a specific celestial light as a marker for the sun at various times of day. Lynch accompanied us, and was closeted with young Chester – in the closet, in truth; the room is not overly spacious, and I think Balthazar has wearied of my company. Perhaps I have looked maudlin at him. Or heaved sighs. By Dagda, I hope I haven’t sighed.

Shane drove the wagon to a nearby market and returned with rum and brandy, and we had been taking our ease with it, when the noise started. It came from the adjoining room, the sounds of a vituperative argument. A married couple, I’d wager, based on the shrill screeching and the sheer venom of the voices. We could not make out the words, but the tone was clear.

“Should we do something?” Goodman Grable queried, taking a tiny sip of the brandy. He drinks like a child, or a doddering granny; but this habit means that on the morrow he will be able to steer the wagon true, so I stopped Shane from laughing at him.

At those words, we all three did stare, and his eyes tacked from man to man. “I mean, pound on the wall, or something?” he continued. “Let them know we can hear them?”

“Why would we do that?” I asked, reaching out for the brandy bottle, which he gave into my hand. As I spoke, the closet opened and Lynch and Chester Grable emerged.

“It’s really loud in there,” said Chester, gesturing towards the wall.

The elder Grable nodded to his son, and then answered my query. “You know, to try to stop it before – before somebody gets hurt.”

I exchanged a look with Kelly, and another with Shane. I did not look at Lynch, for I could see from the edge of my eye that he was glaring at me, at all three of his mates. I turned back to Grable. “’Tis no wisdom to step between lovers in a brouhaha. Less so to step between man and wife.”

“Man and wife,” Kelly murmured, meaning the couple next door; I nodded. Surely lovers would not carry on at this volume for this long.

Grable looked at all of us, then at Lynch. Lynch shook his head and then stomped into the washroom – a private lavatory, these rooms had, which was the sole claim of either comfort or quality which I had seen this inn make – and closed the door vigorously. It did seem a luxury to relieve one’s self and wash without stepping into the cold night air or fetching water; too, I appreciated not having my men use a chamberpot right by my bed as I slept. For the nonce, it served as a private cabin for Lynch’s ire. Grable shrugged, beckoned his son to sit beside him on the bed, and then he turned on the room’s magic window, the which drowned out the bulk of the hurly-burly in yonder room.

Until he began to strike her.

We could hear it all: the blow, an open hand on a cheek, with a crack like canvas in a storm wind; she cried out and then began to weep. There were more blows; she was flung against the wall, and he roared in anger while she pleaded. He struck her again. And then again.

Grable stood. “We have to call the cops!”

I stood then, and placed myself before the room’s telephone. “No policia. We be hunted men.”

Grable shook, his face pale and sickly as the woman’s cries continued. By the Morrigan, would the woman not be silent? Did she not know that her caterwauling drove him on, and on? If she would but suffer in silence, he would cease – and then she could cut his throat while he slept. I would offer my dagger to the cause.

“Then you do something!” Grable said, the effort to sound gruff clear in his voice, but belied by his face, by his shaking hands.

I shook my head. “She is no kin of mine, nor any of ours. It is not our concern.”

Grable threw up his hands. “We have to do something! He’s going to kill her!” He may have been right; her cries had fallen to whimpers and grunts, and still, the blows fell.

I crossed my arms. “If he does so, we will bring him before a magistrate to face justice.”

Grable grabbed my shirt. “That’s not good enough!”

I quirked an eyebrow at him. I drew my wheel-gun from my belt and proffered it to him. “Play the man, then, Master Grable,” quoth I.

Grable released my shirt and fell back away from me. He returned to his bed, put his arm around his son, and hung his head.

I nodded. “Aye. A man takes care of his own, first.”

Of a sudden, then, Balthazar Lynch stood before me, his eyes aflame; I flinched back from him. He snatched the wheel-gun from my hand. “A good man does more,” he said to me, his voice so low that only I could hear him.

‘Twas as if he struck a blow, and now it was I who fell back away from him. He turned from me and strode quickly out of the room. Then we heard a pounding fist on the neighboring door. “Open for the Watch,” Lynch called, trying to pitch his voice low and manly. Then he remembered where we were, and the words these people used. “Policia!” he shouted, pounding again.

The sound of blows stopped, the woman’s whimpering fading. Then we heard the door open, and the man began to speak.

Lynch did not give him the chance. Instantly we heard a sharp blow, and the man grunted; then there were two more similar sounds, and the door flung hard ’gainst a wall. The woman cried out, and there was a scuffle; we could hear Lynch cursing, and the man first grunting as blow after blow sounded through the wall – and then he was howling.

Shane winced. “Lad got him in the stones,” he said, and the rest of us winced in turn.

Then there was a second, identical howl.

Then a third.

“Christ, lad,” Shane muttered, “ye’ll geld the man, if ye keep at it.”

But it seemed that Lynch was satisfied with that, for the sounds of combat ended. We heard Balthazar’s voice, low and solicitous, and we heard the girl reply. We sat in rapt silence, listening to it all, Chester having darkened the magic window so we could hear. She spoke again, her voice choked with tears. Then Lynch asked a question – and then she said something filled with choler. Then there was a thud, and a low groan.

Kelly rumbled. “Lass kicked ‘im.”

A new commotion began; the man made some noise of protest, and there was a slap, louder than any before it. Then a scuffling – and then, through the still-open door of our room, we saw the man come stumbling out of his room, clearly violently propelled thus: he fell asprawl on the pavement and lay there bleeding, his face turning black and blue.

We raised our bottles in salute to Balthazar Lynch’s victory. We bade Chester return the magic window to life, and we returned to our drinking, waiting for Lynch to return so we could congratulate him directly, and raise a glass in his honor.

But he did not return.

‘Twas an hour later, at the least, and our bottles nearly drained, before he came back to the room. In the meantime the ejected ruffian had risen to his clumsy feet, clutching at his offended manhood; he had shouted one last imprecation – the which his lass had returned, with several more as a generous gift – and then he had stumbled to a beast-wagon and rattled his way out of the inn’s bounds. We watched him go, standing in the doorway lest he think to return – and Kelly remained there on watch against that possibility – and then returned to our drinking.

At last Kelly said, “Captain?” and I turned to see Lynch in the doorway, Kelly having stepped aside for the youth.

For the youth and his companion.

The lass was bloodied and bruised, but young and comely beneath it; and she held Lynch’s arm with both hands, clinging to him as to a lifeline.

“Captain,” Lynch said. I raised an eyebrow at him. “I will be spending the night in the next room,” Lynch said. I did not respond. After a moment, he nodded, turned, and left with the lass.

Shane and Kelly roared with laughter, and sang a bawdy song to encourage Lynch in reaping the rewards of his heroics. I did not join in. Rather, I went to sleep in the beast-wagon.

Alone.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #61: Debts and Assets

Log

I made it but a handful of steps nearer to the Volare when I was hailed anew, once more by name.

“Captain Kane?”

On this occasion, the call came from the second sailing ship on this pier, the Emperor Grable. A man was just stepping down from its gangplank, one arm raised and his hand cautiously a-wave as he peered at me, his head thrust slightly forward in the way of one who seeks notice but fears rebuke.

“Should I ever enter the trades, I should not need to hang a shingle; everyone knows my name already!” I muttered mannerlessly through my frown. I was still discomposed by the dispute with Brother Bob. Aye, well: more by the thought that that unfrocked pedant might be in the right, and the fates of all of my men and my ship all hang from the web of my lies, my crimes, my failures. But I gave myself a vigorous shake, as a sail snapping full of wind after coming about, and I cast aside these doubts and aspersions. It matters not who is to blame: it matters what is to be done. And whatever is required to see my men and my ship safe, I will do it.

I faced the man as he approached and bowed to him so he would not take umbrage at my initial discourtesy. “Aye, good sir. Captain Damnation Kane am I, of the Grace of Ireland, may she be blessed wheresoever she be.”

He nodded and looked more at ease, his head drawing back over his shoulders, and he thrust out a hand, the which I took with all respect due to a fellow ship’s captain, and all the warmth I felt for another salty dog o’ the sea. “Everett Grable,” he said. “That’s my lady there – the Emperor Grable.”

I nodded. “Aye, she is a lovely craft, indeed. Are you her namesake, sir?”

He smiled and waved a hand. “No – that was my father. I’m afraid he was a little – full of himself. But he taught me to sail on her, and it didn’t seem right to change the name after he died.”

I shook my head vigorously at that. “No, indeed! ‘Tis the worst sort of luck to change a ship’s name. It confuses her, you see, and she’ll not hearken to you at all, after.”

Captain Grable frowned, but then shrugged. Aye – just let him try it, and he’d see. Changing a name, taking away an identity built by miles and years, by storms and suns, by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, merely for the pleasure or convenience of another – ’tis not only confusing, but ’tis a terrible insult. When I write my bosun’s name in this log, I fashion it Kelly, but ’tis only because the writing of Ceallachan Ó Duibhdabhoireann gives one the wrist-cramp. When I address the man, I say Ceallachan. Aye, now that I consider it, mayhap this business of names lies close to my own heart: I served under a captain that refused to use my given name for the cursedness of it, and refused to use my family name for I was a raw hand, and a youth of barely nineteen summers; he addressed me – when he did so at all – as Nathaniel. And whene’er he did so, it ground my teeth together, and I wanted to shout: my mother gave me my name, to remind me of my father – of my enemies, and my vengeance so long deferred. I will wear it, and proudly, until I bring mine enemies to that very same state. And who are you to change it? To take away my revenge, my pride? Damn you, then, sir. I curse you with my name.

Aye. I know the worth and weight of a given name.

Though to tell true, I did think that Captain Grable had already somewhat of troublousness with the name of his ship; why anyone would lump a lovely and graceful lass like that with a masculine name like “Emperor” was a mystification to me. For a ship, any ship, is a woman, plain as the dawning sun at sea: they are beautiful, and they are graceful (Except when they are not – and sure there are a few tubs waddling about the seas what will make a man wince and turn away, grateful she isn’t his to come home to. But even those, to the men that love them, have beauty enough. My thrust is that no man is beautiful, and no man is graceful. Women are. Ships are.) and they will not listen to their captains for one instant unless you bring them gifts and coddle them and then ask politely for what you wish. The Empress Grable – now that, ’tis a name for a ship.

There are men in this world who believe that ships – and women – may be captained, and controlled, with anger and with brute strength – with a blow, rather than a kiss. Too often, such men are allowed to live, and to wield that heavy hand so oft as they wish. Such a man is my father. Such a man is Nicholas Hobbes. And he has my Grace. I shudder to think of what he will do to her.

But I take some solace in this: ships know who they are. They know their captains, too. I had no doubt that my Grace would sail but reluctantly, peevishly, shrewish in the extreme, for the thieves and liars that had taken her from me – and who, if Kelly was right, had planted the figurehead of another ship on her bow. Ha! She would be most deeply outraged at that insult, I was sure.

Howsoever, ’twas my duty, now, to rescue her from her captors. I needed to confer with my men, and determine our next steps, and so I took the liberty of inviting Captain Grable aboard the Volare, to continue our conversation there, if he had aught to add – and he did, for he accepted, and we made our way aboard and belowdecks.

Once there, I called all to order and put it to them: how would we find the Grace? I first asked for a list of our assets and advantages, which I began myself: it seemed, from Kelly’s account, that Hobbes and his Shadowman/Houndman had need of me; but they did not know where I was. They did not know that Kelly had survived and brought to me news of their actions, and of their apparent destination, this Bermuda Triangle. Thus, we had both time and surprise on our side – time as they could not carry out their plans until they found me, and surprise because we would find them first.

Then Captain Grable contributed to our conversation and to our list of assets: he went above and hailed his son, Chester; when the boy had dashed over from the Emperor Grable, he and his father made us a kind gift: they returned the swag which my men had given to them, the which comprised a large cloth sack filled with Verizon Stones and magic windows, these items so precious to the Americalish people. At first, I was adrift without words, and I fear my initial protestations of gratitude were somewhat lacking in sincerity; in truth, following my tribulations aboard the dragon-train, I wished for nothing but the destruction of all Verizon-Stones, all magic windows, every cursed one. But spying my ill-mannered hesitancy, Captain Grable explained: these objects would be of greatest value to their original owners, the which, if we could discover them, would be likely to show their gratitude for the return of their infernal mechanicals in the form of currency. For that, I had no hesitancy. I expressed my confusion as to how we would find the owners; were the items branded, or sealed, perhaps? Or was there a central authority with a list of identifying marks for magic windows? The Grables, per and fils, eyed me askance, and then offered an explanation that I could not fathom at all. Somewhat to do with charging and then checking contacts and calling to inquire if any items had been lost. Though I could not comprehend, they seemed most sure of the efficacy of this proposed solution, and I bowed to their greater knowledge.

I was silenced, then, by Mistress Rosenblum, for that kind lady rose, went to a small shelf, and withdrew from a drawer a pistola and a quantity of dollar-papers, which she attempted to press on me, saying that my men had given them to her, and she wished to return them. I did endeavor to refuse – for how could she return to me that which had never been mine to claim? And how could I accept this kindness from her without returning already that which she gave me in hospitality, and succor of my men? – but her insistence was most – insistent. Thus, I thanked her as effusively as I could, and accepted.

And there ended our advantages. Our defects and weaknesses began: we had no ship and no crew, and no way to follow the Grace to her destination, nor means of regaining control of her should we find means to arrive there. We had no real concept of what Hobbes and the Shadowman intended with her, though we let ourselves roam in speculation: perhaps they meant to carry on where Shluxer and O’Flaherty had been prevented, and sail these shores, this time, as a pirate craft; with the Sea-Cat gone, such a turn would bring their thoughts naturally to my Grace, the stealing of which would also serve to avenge Hobbes’s own loss at my hand. But for the sake of vengeance, I saw the matter more likely following this course: the object of that vengeance was myself, and holding the Grace was the surest way to draw me to them.

Talking of this leeched the peace from me, and I rose and paced, casting about the cabin of the Volare for somewhat to soothe me; but nothing could. All I could think was: they have my ship. I cannot follow. I cannot take her back from them. They have my ship. Around my head went these words, as around the cabin went my stride, and in neither case was there progress.

At last, I was forced to leave. I begged forbearance of my hosts and allies, and made my way above and then down the Volare’s gangplank to the pier. I walked to the end and then stood gazing out at the uneasy waters; the tide was at its turn, and the swells wobbled and fell against one another like men far gone in drink, attempting to make their way homeward. I found myself wishing – aye, even praying – that my Grace could somehow stumble her own way home to me.

Then I found myself gazing at the Emperor Grable. She was a doughty craft, thought I. Sturdy. She rode the larger swells with ease, breasting the smaller ones handily. Perhaps I had been wrong, in thinking her too small and too delicate to make way through open seas. If we had good weather – and too, her single mast meant that four able seamen could sail her . . . and but one man and a boy to defend her . . . and they had womenfolk to worry about . . .

“No, Captain,” spake a voice behind me. I started, sure for a moment that mine own conscience had spoken to me, that some angel or spirit was standing by my shoulder, whispering into my ear. I turned on my heel – and there stood Balthazar Lynch, his jaw set, his gaze steady on mine. He shook his head, and said again, “No, sir. She is not for us. That is not our way.”

I parted my lips to deny, to spout outrage that he could think that I would – but ‘struth, I would. I turned away from his gaze. After a breath, I said, “It is the only way. I cannot just let her go.”

I turned back to him – nay, in truth, I rounded on the lad, looming, my fists clenched. I confess that a part of my soul was truly outraged: outraged that this boy, this stripling, would say his captain Nay. “I will not let that soulless damned bastard take my ship,” I growled at him. “And you did hear that man – we must have a ship. We cannot make the journey to this Triangle without we sail there.”

He shook his head, bending not at all, though my greater height forced his chin up to meet my gaze with his bottomless eyes. “That is not all he said,” he hissed.

I threw up my hands. “Aye – he said we could fly,” I said, my voice mocking. I turned and kicked a stone into the air – and then it fell into the sea, and vanished beneath. That for flying, thought I. I said, “That is a ship, there. And I – I am a pirate!”

I felt Lynch’s hand on my shoulder, and somehow, it eased my tautened limbs, slowed my racing heart. “You are a pirate, aye,” he spoke, his words but a whisper. “And you are a good man. You cannot do this and remain such. You cannot lose your goodness and remain Damnation Kane. My – captain. My friend.”

I felt all the strength go out of me. “So what would you have me do? I cannot fly there for the wishing. We have not the gold to buy our passage aboard the air-planes.”

Lynch made a noise that shared both anger and disgust – but it was not a hopeless sound. He knew something, but he did not want to speak of it. Heartened, I turned to him; he had his back to me, but I grabbed his slender shoulders and turned him back to face me: now he would not meet my gaze. “What?” I asked him. “Speak!”

He sighed and looked up at me. “Must I say it, Nate? Must I?”

I tightened my grip. “What, man! Tell me!”

With a sudden movement, he broke free of my grasp, and took two quick steps away. He stopped and glared angrily at me, his color high, his lips parted over clenched teeth. “You can fly. She will take you.

Meredith,” he said, and her name was a curse he spat at me. He turned then and stalked away, even as I cried out at his glad tidings.

For he was right! My lady, my love – she is a pilot. She has her own craft! And though we had not enough for the purchase of an air-plane cabin – we could find the clink for a berth aboard a dragon-train, I knew. With the hundred dollars from the Rosenblums, and the dollars from the magic windows’ return – aye, we’d find a way. We’d make a way.

I know not why Lynch was so reluctant to speak of this. I am glad he did, for he has given me a new hope.

Now: now I will go and see if the lad Chester has charged his Verizon-stones – perhaps they require powder and fuse? Must they be loaded and primed, like muskets? – and we shall see if I may charm my way into recompense generous enough to pay my way.

My way back to Charleston. And my lady fair.

And then, into the skies: to Bermuda, and the fairest lady of them all. My Grace.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #60: Karma

“Tell me all of it,” I ordered my bosun.

The Englishmen had tramped aboard at a quick march; together with the dark men, they outnumbered my depleted crew, and outgunned them, as well. O’Gallows had seen the folly of fighting, and had instantly ordered surrender – “Though he bloody well choked on the words, Cap’n. Had to cough and spit t’ get ’em out with heft enow to be heard.” But say those words he had, and my men had obeyed. Hobbes and the Shadowman had bound the wrists of my crew and tied them to the rails.

Kelly grinned then, which split his injured mouth and sent fresh trickles of blood down his chin – a most gruesomely piratical grin, it was. “They tied us – but they did not search us proper. I had a knife in me boot, and so did half the others. Salty had a full marlinspike in his trousers, though I don’t know how they missed that. P’raps they thought ’twas his cock.” His eyes widened then, even as I managed a small smile, and he ducked his head to Mistress Rosenblum, who was dabbing at his cuts with a cloth dipped in something the color of old blood – “Iodine” was writ on the bottle, though I know not this physic. “Begging your pardon, Mistress,” he said, but she shook her head and patted his cheek gently. “You’re a sailor, young man. And I live on a boat.” She flashed a smile at her man. “With a sailor,” she said, and both of them grinned like mischievous children.

Kelly went on. “They had bound me beside MacTeigue, and he and I whispered together when the men guarding us walked away – ’twas the dark men, for the Englishers were making ready to sail. O’Gallows they kept on the poop deck with Hobbes and that thin bastard; that thin one wanted to know where you were, Cap’n, and when you’d be back. I weren’t close enow to hear all of it, but your name was shouted more than once.” He met my gaze then, though he had been lying back on the bench as he spoke. “Hobbes, he wanted you something fierce, true enough. He surely does.”

“Aye,” I said. “‘Tis mutual.”

“But while I could not hear all that they were sayin’, I did hear this: two of the dark men who kept the watch on us spoke on how much longer the business would last. I got the idea that they were hired hands, sir – pressed just for the taking of the ship. For one said, ‘We don’t be sailing on this ship, do we man?’ And t’other shook his head and said, “Nah, man, they be taking this to the Triangle. Make we no business there. The Houndman – he don’t need us, once the boat go. We stay here.’ T’other one laughed and said, ‘He no need us for this at all, man. Him a real bad mo-jo man. Him use us for that he no want no blood spilled, not in the clash and botheration and all.'”

When he spoke as the dark men, Kelly’s deep rumble of a voice and his thick Irish brogue vanished, his voice and accent becoming that of another man entire; I had heard him perform thus in the past, but the Rosenblums were startled. It is indeed remarkable to hear another’s voice coming from that mighty frame, but I have never known a better mimic than he. I stopped Kelly then, however, for I had questions to ask: “Houndman? Be that what they called their master, the thin one? And mo-jo man?” I leaned forward in my excitement and grabbed his wrist, but he winced at the touch and I drew back my hand. But not the query, which I pressed again.

But ’twas Master Rosenblum who spoke. “I don’t know about Houndman, but mo-jo is a word for magic, like witchcraft, or vudu. And if that was an island accent – didn’t it sound like the islands, Iris?” He turned to his lady, who nodded vigorously and murmured compliments for Kelly’s mimicry. Master Rosenblum went on. “If those men were from the islands, then the ‘Triangle’ is probably the Bermuda Triangle.

“They’re taking your ship to Bermuda.”

***

Kelly told the rest of his tale, but I confess I listened with but half an ear, having heard all that I wanted to know: their destination. Having heard this from the dark men, and knowing as he did the need to get this information to me, Kelly had resolved to find a way off the ship; but before he could cut his bonds and make his escape, the Grace had weighed anchor and left the dock. Kelly despaired, then, but soon another came to the rescue. That is, came to my rescue; for ’twas nearly the doom of poor Kelly. His staunch loyalty does him the greatest of honor. ‘Twas my true friend, Ian O’Gallows, who saw the way: being that the theft was accomplished and the Grace was under sail, Hobbes and the Houndman dismissed O’Gallows. My mate went to sound the men, whispering queries under the guise of checking for any hurts or malcontents; and finding them determined, he whispered his plan: one of them must feign death, so as to be thrown overboard. If they acted swiftly, the false corpse would be close enough to shore to swim it, and then return to Pier Eighty-Three and wait for my arrival. They could not simply slip one man over the rail, as the guards would see, and the thunder-guns tear him to pieces. O’Gallows had left them then, before the guards grew over-suspicious; the rest of the crew had consulted, and decided quickly that there was only one course to chart: since the dark men had stated that their shadowy master wanted no blood spilled, then any fighting would surely be done with fists, not with blades or bullets. So one of the Grace’s men would slip his bonds and attack, and be beaten to the appearance of death; the man would need to pretend it, but not too soon – not until he had suffered sufficient injury that could cause a man’s demise – so the guards would believe. Vaughn could attest to the man’s apparent death. This man would then be cast over the rail, and find himself buffeting the cold waves for perhaps a mile or more; this distance continuing to grow as they conferred in whispers snatched behind the backs of the dark men, as the Grace sailed farther and farther out to sea.

Kelly was the only choice. He was the largest, the strongest, and the most tar-headed of all the men; this folly would need to be his. O’Gallows had meandered over, heard the plan, agreed to carry word of his role to Vaughn on the poop deck, and then he ordered them to proceed. No sooner had the mate walked away than Kelly had cut his bonds, handed the blade to Salty so the fisticuffs would not escalate to blood-letting, and then leapt to the fray. The result, I saw before me – though in telling of it, Kelly smiled around bloody teeth and said, “Aye, Cap’n – but ye should see them other bastards.”

Having heard all that Kelly could tell, I thanked him, most sincerely, and ordered him to the hospital, accompanied by the Rosenblums and ferried by Brother Bob and the wagon and team. Lynch, MacManus and I were kindly given permission to remain aboard the Volare as we charted our future course. The last favor I asked of the already-generous Rosenblums was the answer to a single question: how best to hie to Bermuda in pursuit of my Grace?

Master Rosenblum pursed his lips and shook his head. “You’d have to fly. Or sail, though you’d need an ocean-ready boat. It’s an island, and a pretty good ways away – a thousand miles from here. Maybe two. Out into open ocean – and it’s hurricane season.”

Aye. I admit it. When they had gone, leaving me unattended and in command of their craft, I did consider taking it and setting sail. But in truth, the craft was too small to make a sea voyage of that distance – and though the Emperor Grable, two berths down-pier, was larger, it would be difficult for we three to sail it through heavy seas; the same was true for any craft large enough to brave rough weather. Too, doing this would require abandoning Kelly to be held ransom, and I had no doubt that Brother Bob would summon la policia were I to add to my list of crimes.

The which I very nearly did, and on his person, when the man returned from his errand; for this sanctimonious fool of an unfrocked priest had words for me. Nay: ’twas but one word.

“Karma,” quoth he, as Lynch and MacManus were aiding the Rosenblums down from the wagon and aboard the Volare. I had queried them as they arrived as to my bosun’s situation, and been told that he would be well, but was required to abide in the hospital until the morrow. I stayed for a moment, brooding on this – would we need to flee the attention of another Accountman? At this rate we might run through all of the hospitals in America! – when Brother Bob spoke. Distracted, I turned to him and made some interrogatory noise, thus releasing the flood.

“Karma. K-A-R-M-A. It’s the word we use for when the universe balances the scales, and gives you exactly what you deserve.”

I scoffed at him. “The godly men that I have known would call that Divine Justice. But then, they had faith in the will of the Lord.” Aye, ’twas uncouth to badger him so over a thing so personal to a man as his faith, but I had no patience left for Brother Bob’s carping, having carried that weight so far and for so long; most particularly at this hour was I not a-brim with patience.

“Yes – I mean, I do believe in God’s justice. I was only – fine. Divine justice, then. You’re looking right at it.” He slapped his hand down on the wooden seat under him. “You stole this wagon – and now your ship has been stolen from you. ‘Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord.'”

In a trice, I had leapt up onto the seat, and took his shirt in my hands, torn between throwing the Puritanical prig to the ground, and lifting him up to put his donkey’s ears close enough to hear my words properly. I settled on the latter course. “You think those men were godly?” I hissed at him, my anger boiling in my blood – anger set aflame by Hobbes and his pillaging, by my own frustration at how close I had come to sailing free on my own ship, and how far I was now from regaining her: a thousand miles or more? Across open ocean in hurricane season? Christ and Danu! – anger that now had a focus. I shook him just to hear his teeth rattle in his flap-hinged mouth. “You think that bloodsucking bastard Hobbes is the tool of Providence? Yon black-eyed cur has murdered more than half of my men! Chased us across the ocean, pushed us here, to this – this abyss unfit for any man of honor or of worth – and all for what? For bloody prize-money! I shook him again, harder; I did wish that it were Hobbes in my grasp. “That is justice? You call it so? What of Kelly? Is his pain, the risk of his life – is that my punishment for this wagon? Or perhaps for these horses?” I tore my hands from his cloth, then, staggering back to stand straight in the bed of the wagon, my every effort bent on resisting the urge to strike him down – an effort aided somewhat by the fact that I was unarmed.

Brother Bob did not make my forbearance easy. He shook his finger in my face and shouted, “It’s all your fault! You brought this on yourself and on your men! You are pursued by violent men because you are a violent man! These are the wages of your sins! Your men suffer because you led them into iniquity! You are the villain here!”

Teeth gritted, my vision turned the color of blood, I drew back my fist to strike – and was clasped about the wrist by MacManus, who had returned to quell the shouting. “Captain,” he said, and I rounded on him, though I retained sense enough to resist lashing out at any who stood before me; facing my loyal friend now began to cool my ire. Shane met my gaze and said, “We are for the ship, sir. For the Grace of Ireland. Stay the course.”

‘Twas enough. Without turning back or uttering another word to Brother Bob, I leapt down from the wagon. I took a deep and calming breath, and then blew it out. I nodded to MacManus and clapped him on the shoulder. I pointed to the wagon and its load of folly. “Watch him. See he doesn’t leave.” I smoothed a hand over the near horse’s back, aware (albeit too late) of how our dispute had agitated them. I spoke softly, now. “This may be our only means of transport.” Brother Bob, hearing this, began to harangue and hector me anew, now with the theme of my worthless promises, my broken word that he could return the wagon and team. I turned my gaze on him, and ’twas enough to close his mouth, the look in my eye.

Softly, still, for the sake of the horses’ nerves, I said to him, “I told you that the wagon and the beasts would be returned after we reached my ship.” I looked weightily at the empty space where the Grace had been – ah, ’twas reflected in the empty space in my heart! – and then raised an eyebrow at him. I turned my back on his red-faced silence and walked towards the Volare.

Divine justice. Bah.

Of course he was right. Of course he was. The fault is mine. But so too was MacManus right: I am for the Grace. I must stay the course. If I must suffer to atone for my sins, I will do so: but I will do it aboard the deck of my ship. Then I will bleed as the gods will it.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Log #59: Curses

BLOODY BUGGERING POXY HELLFIRE GOBSHITE!

Bah! It is no help.

Ye gods, ye gods! She is gone. How can this be?

Perhaps it is not. I swooned, I think, though my men will not say so for the shame of my weakness. But when we saw the empty space where my Grace

Ah, God, I cannot write her name.

Please, God. I beg of Thee. I must have my ship. I cannot live without her, Lord. Please. Hear me. Help me. God. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost. In Nomine Patri, et fi – I cannot remember it. Stab me, split me, burn me, and sink me, I cannot remember it!

Please, Almighty God. Amen.

Later

I would that I knew how to pray, what words, what language – the Gaelic for the gods of my mother, to be sure; is it Latin for the God of my father? Or is it enough that my heart cries out to the skies and to the heavens above, wordless cries of anguish and grief and rage?

BAH! No. I will not. I will not pray to the god of Devil Cromwell, the god of the Inquisition. The god of Puritan rapists. Aye, aye, I did just that on this very page, not two hours past. But that I did write in the depths of black despair. I seek now for the words to give my gratitude to those powers and deities that watch me, and that saw fit to set me on my path. I would thank the gods for the knowledge of my ship’s fate. For I know that she lives, still. I know where she has gone, and wherefore.

And for every laud, every psalm, every paean I would wing up to those beings above for their kind guidance, I have a thousand curses to heap on the head of Nicholas Hobbes for his vile iniquity. ‘Twas he.

I have not time for this log. But I will write my thanks, for I wrote my plea, and ’twas answered; perhaps it is this pen, this ink, this paper that carries my words, my thoughts, my soul aloft into the eyes and ears of the Divine.

I would tear out that place where I turned to my father’s despised and despicable god, both from these papers and from my breast; but as it clearly rests within me even now, let my shameful cowardice remain here, as well. I knew not what I wrote; the roots are sunk deep in me, that this hypocrisy flows so readily from me in my extremity. Aye: it be in my blood, not so? Some awe, some dread, some desperate – longing? Nay!

Bah. Enough. ‘Tis not the time to meditate on my faltering.

I thank thee, Danu, Lugh, Manannan Mac Lir, Lord of the Sea. I thank thee, oh Fates, who weave the tapestry of our lives. I thank thee, Mother Earth, and Father Ocean, for thy kind succor in my time of need. Thou wilt all have my fealty, my obeisance, and my right arm to defend thee.

And in exchange, if any of you be listening: I will have my ship. And Nicholas Hobbes’s head. For if I cannot take God’s head, then the Devil’s will serve.

Later

Perhaps I should not have written what I did about beheading the Almighty. It would seem that the powers above take such threats amiss – aye, well, not amiss, for I did aim and hit my mark, in truth; they be not pleased with it, nor me, is my meaning – and seek to chastise me by the simple expedient of setting my passions aflame, lighting the fuse to the powderkeg that is my heart, and blowing me to Kingdom Come.

Nay, to be sure it is not so, as I have just been disputing with that rock-headed, burnt-arsed dolt, Brother Bob. I but jest, and ’tis not having the desired calming effect on myself.

I will turn the page to hide all this, and begin anew.

Now: I have a task, and my task is to find peace, to soothe my thrumming nerves and cool my sparking, sputtering temper. I have taken to the water and bathed ‘neath the waves, at MacManus’s urging; clever man. The struggle against the tide and the chop has eased my limbs, tautened by the need to fight, to attack, that has squeezed me and slashed at me from the moment I could put a name and a face to my Nemesis, the one who has stolen my Grace. Now my arms, my legs, my back, are all pleasantly wearied. It is my hope that the effort of writing out all of this day’s events in this log will have a similar effect on my mind and heart, and this ink will act as did the cool waters on my heated flesh, the taste of salt on my lips that quieted my tongue that did thirst for the blood of my enemies, and aye, even my friends. I have tried to spill that good blood, this day, more than once. Curse me for a hot-tempered fool.

But now the tale, and a hope for serenity at its close.

We arrived here, at Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn-of-New-York, and looked for the masts; for though there are dozens of ships docked here, none of them are sailing ships like my Grace. And at the end of the pier, we did see masts upthrust from the water; overjoyed at this sight, I leapt from the wagon, followed on the instant by Lynch, and we raced to those masts, laughing and capering like buffoons – or like sailors coming home at last. Only to find that these were not the masts we were looking for.

These masts belonged to a pair of small pleasure craft of this time, not to my beautiful Grace of Ireland. But in seeing the names writ on the sides and stern of these craft – the smaller one called the Volare, the larger the Emperor Grable – I knew we were in the right place, for these were the names Vaughn had told me, of the sister ships whose masters had served as boon companions to my men after the bitch-storm Irene.

But the Grace was gone.

I sent Lynch and MacManus to search the entire pier, and to confirm that ’twas Pier Eighty-Three in Brooklyn-of-New-York, while I would search the water, so far as I could see. But we found nothing. I returned to Brother Bob, who waited atop the wagon seat, a look of concern returned to his kind features, effacing the condemnation that had twisted his mien since Amish lands. I wrote something in my log while awaiting my men’s report, I know not what without looking, the which I shall not do for the sake of my would-be equanimity. Then Lynch called out to me from farther up the pier: “Captain! ‘Tis the right pier, but no sign of her, sir. Shall we search the next piers, as well?” I shouted aye, search all the eighties (For perhaps they had needed to move berths to avoid la policia or some such – but if ’twere true, they would not go far. Would they? I cursed myself then for not determining a second meet-point in case of discovery and tribulations, like a green captain new to the Brotherhood, the which I most certainly am not.). Lynch called out, “Aye, Captain!” and raced off to tell MacManus.

As I walked to and fro in my agitation, then, of a sudden I was hailed, from the smaller of the masted pleasure craft nearby. “Excuse me, sir. Are you the Captain? Captain Kane?”

My blood surged at the words, even as I surged forward to the ship’s rail. “Aye, I am Damnation Kane, captain of the – Grace of Ireland.” I coughed to clear the clot from my throat. “Do I know you, sir?”

The man who stood by the hatchway that led below the little craft’s deck shook his grey-locked head. “No, you don’t. But this man knows you.” He reached down, grasped an outstretched hand – a very large outstretched hand – and aided two people up to the deck: a woman as grey-haired and bent-backed as he, who was almost vanished under the man whose arm was around her shoulders for support as he staggered up the ladder: my bosun, Ceallachan Ó Duibhdabhoireann. Kelly.

I cried out with joy at he sight, and leapt aboard to relieve the oldsters of their prodigious burden; in the process, all the four of us stumbled our way to berths on the cushioned benches on deck. As the kindly old folk – Master and Mistress Rosenblum, they informed me – as they gasped and coughed, sore winded by the massive man they had been hauling about, I took stock of my man, and saw on the instant why he had needed the support of a granny to make it up the ladder: I have never seen a man more gravely beaten. His flesh was black and blue, where it was not reddened with dried blood, over nearly every inch the eye could touch upon. His face had been washed, but was so swollen and cut from lip to nose to eye, so that only his size and the patch he wore over his missing left eye – lost in our second battle with that motherless bastard Hobbes – could identify him.

I asked after his health, and was assured that he would recover – which statement was cast into some doubt by the cough that racked him while he answered, and the blood that he spat to the deck after he coughed; though I could see that this claret came from but a split lip, and not from the lungs – that naught was broken but a few ribs and his fingers. “I ne’er thought you’d find a skull harder than your fist, man,” I jested, and Kelly smiled, so far as he could.

“Twas by reason o’ quantity, like, Cap’n, not the hardness,” he said. Then he coughed again, one hand on his side; I lifted his shirt, and saw a great black mark there, stretched from his first rib to his last; he had taken a mighty blow, perhaps struck with a mallet, or an oar.

“He needs a hospital,” Mistress Rosenblum said, as she came quickly up from below with a cup of water, the which she held to Kelly’s bloody lips as he drank thirstily. “He needs to see a doctor.” She looked at me with a gimlet eye. “But he wouldn’t leave. Said he had to wait for you. He was sure you would come.”

I nodded and patted his knee through his breeches, as I could not see a place on him that wasn’t bloody or bruised. “Aye, he’s a good man. Fear not, Madame, I shall have him seen to.”

Kelly pushed away the cup with another weak cough, and then his one good eye, swollen near shut and bloodshot as well, fixed on me.

“‘Twas Hobbes, Captain. ‘Twas the Devil’s Lash. He took the Grace.”

And ’twas then that I swooned. At the least, I have no memory of the next few breaths, until I came to myself sprawled athwart the cushioned bench, my heart galloping and my skin turned all to gooseflesh. My breath panted shallow and quick, like a beast at bay, and my lips curled around every curse and oath that I have ever heard, and all directed at Thomas Hobbes. Fortunately, I spoke too low for the lady to hear, and I ceased as soon as I knew where and who I was, and gathered myself once more. That is to say: I ceased forming the words with my mouth, though they continued on marching in rank and column through my mind. They do it still, waving the flag of Hobbes before them.

Kelly told me, once I had begged a drink stronger than water from the hospitable Master Rosenblum, of all that had befallen the day before – but one day! Curse the fates for that. Curse me for leaving that dragon-train, and for allowing myself to be taken and robbed. Had I been here one day earlier, then I would be the one sailing away aboard my ship, and not that walking mass of pig shite and brimstone.

“They asked permission, Cap’n. Permission to come aboard. Said they had news of you – knew your name, Cap’n. Had it from Hobbes, I reckon.”

I frowned at him. “You let those English bastards aboard?”

He shook his head, and winced at it. “Nay, Cap’n, not they. ‘Twas six or seven dark men, Africans, like, wi’ long knotted hair. Long as a woman’s braids, but all over the head, like.”

“They call them dread-locks,” Mistress Rosenblum interjected.

My blood turned to ice, then. “Was one of them clean-headed, thin as a whip, with a smile like a death’s head?”

Kelly nodded. “Aye, Cap’n. ‘Twas him what did the talking.”

Once O’Gallows – who had never seen the Shadowman, as I had, and therefore had no reason to suspect foul play – had given them permission to board, the dark men had drawn pistolas and taken O’Gallows, Vaughn, and two others captive; a signal had been given, and from behind a warehouse came the English bearing thunder-guns. And something else.

“They had the Scourged Lady, Cap’n.”

I goggled at him. “The figurehead? From the Sea-Cat?”

He nodded. “Aye. And when they had the Grace, and all of us bound and tethered to the rails, Hobbes ordered her lashed to the foremast.”

It came to me then. “We sank her. We sank his ship, didn’t we.”

“Aye, Cap’n. I reckon so.”

The momentary sense of triumph fell away. “And now he’s taken mine, in return.”

Kelly nodded. “Aye, Cap’n. I reckon so.”

My hands clenched into fists. “Then we will take it back,” I said, my throat choked near closed with hatred. But my words were heard, for Kelly nodded once more. “Aye, Cap’n,” quoth he, his voice like thunder rumbling in the distance – a storm coming soon. “I reckon so.”

It took some effort to unbend my fingers, to loosen the taut knot of my throat, but I did so; the whiskey that Master Rosenblum had kindly provided was a true helpmeet in this. I took several deep breaths, and my enkindled blood cooled slightly. For the nonce. “Tell me all of it,” I ordered my bosun.

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