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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.

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

Log #75: Deadly Damn Diary

October 3

Dear Diary,

 

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

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

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

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

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

He had blood on his face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Brick.

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

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

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

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

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

That murderer Kane is the wolf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log #71: Captain No More

October 1

Dear Diary,

The government charter is finished. Three flight days stretched to five, like I hoped. I managed, despite my life descending into a pit of burning pigshit, to be both professional and friendly when Dr. Sandhu smiled and said they would love to hire me again, which made me feel a little better even though it SUCKS that this job is over.

But then I went home, and found that the pirates have left port, all except the young one, Balthazar Lynch. It should have cheered me up. It didn’t. Especially not after I talked to Balthazar about what happened. He didn’t want to talk to me, in fact I think he sort of hates me, though I’m not sure why. Maybe he thinks what that pig son of a bitch he calls Captain thought, that I was owned by some fucking man, and that I was a slut for using my “feminine wiles” – fucking feminine wiles?!? What the fuck??

I have to stop thinking about it. It just makes me furious.

Anyway, I talked to Balthazar (What a name!) and I found out some of what happened. I should have known, though. I saw the bruises on that chauvinist son of a bitch even before I hit him (and kicked him, and slapped him, and I should have kicked him right in the dick and then spit in his goddamn face! No. Stop, Mer. Stop.) and I should have known. Hmmm, let me think, who do I know that would come around my house, claim he owned me, and show a ring that looks just like the one Mama gave me for my 15th birthday, and then get into some knockdown, drag-out fight about it?

Looks like Damnation the Chauvinist has met Mr. Brick Calhoun, violent felon and Stalker Extraordinaire. And it turned out just about as well as I thought, though I am glad no one died. Balthazar wouldn’t tell me everything that happened, he just shook his head and clammed up no matter what I said after that.

Lord, I hope Damnation hasn’t gotten mixed up with Brick. Sure as eggs in April, someone will end up dead.

No. You know what, Di-Di? I am not going to feel bad about this. That fucking pig took Brick Calhoun – Brick! Fucking! Calhoun! – at his word. Believed that I was taken, that I was owned by that redneck turkey-fucker. Believed that, whatever flirting he and I may have done, I did it while I was involved with another man who I never mentioned to him. Believed that I would be like that, that all women would be like that, simply because we are women when, oh, I don’t know, THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN RACE shows that men are the faithless pigs who will fuck anything that will let them and most things that won’t. Then, instead of asking me nicely why the stupid ugly man would say such a stupid ugly AND OBVIOUSLY FALSE thing, he attacked me. If he had spoken to me about it like a civilized human being – like a gentleman – then I could have explained why nothing Brick says is ever true, especially not about me. Then maybe I could have gotten him and his equally stupid friends to testify that Brick started the fight, and he could have gone back to jail and I would be safe.

Oh, sorry, Diary. Didn’t mean to cry on you. I’m just so scared. He was at my house. Doing violence, causing mayhem. And claiming he owns me. He was wearing my ring.

What am I going to do? Thankfully, I haven’t actually seen him myself, not since that night I went to the Watermark with Melly and he was there. I suppose he’s busy dealing with Damnation. Maybe I should be happy that sexist asshole was around to run interference for me with that other psycho.

Maybe the redneck asshole and the Irish asshole will vanish together, and leave me in peace. But I suppose that’s too much to hope for, isn’t it?

Oh right. I forgot. Nana apologized to me for having the wrong idea about Damnation, and for letting that pig say all those terrible things to and about me. Oh my GOD we both cried and it was terrible and I can’t say anything more about it except I love my Nana with all of my heart and everyone else’s heart, too.

 

I called Jerry Rampaneau. He was ever so happy to hear from me, since usually he’s the one who has to call me – Lord, he probably thinks I’m flirting with him. Good God Almighty, Diary, how many men think they can own me? Why does this have to keep happening, and happening, and happening? But he said he’d have a client for the day after tomorrow, and that he could line one up for probably every day after that. Tomorrow I’ll go over the plane, and then I’ll fly Dirty Old Man Charters for as long as I can. Because as long as I’m in the sky, I know Damnation Kane and Brick Calhoun will leave me alone.

I’ll have to pad my shorts so my ass doesn’t get pinch-shaped bruises on it.

God damn all men.

 

 

BLog

i see on my phone a word blog al the tym so i wil cal this BLog for B. Lynch log.

mayhap she is not a slut. i red sum uv hur diry becuz Captin was diseeved and lyed 2 and that man brick sed Mery was his woman. he had hur ring i saw it. she was gon al day and so i went in hur rum 2 see wut i can find. i find hur diry. i red it sum uv it. i got anguree becuz she cal Captin naymz and say he haz a lidl prik and cal him a lyer but Captinz not a lyer. i tor that payj owt 2 sho Captin so he wil no wut she thinks uv him.

but i red mor. she is scard uv brick. she duzint luv him. she is not his. he is the lyer not Captin. i wantid 2 tel Captin but i was 2 angeree withim. and then he is trapt by brick and now he is gon. i wood find a way 2 kil brick but Captin needz him 2 get 2 bermyooduh and if he dyz then Captin and kellee and shayn are in trubl with lawz. i tol brick if he hurts Captin i wil kil him.

i hav to tok 2 chester abowt vidyo.

i hav 2 be redy 2 go if brick senz wurd becuz Captin wil go and i wil go withim. no matr ware no mater how stoopid heez beein abowt mery vans or abowt brick. he is my Captin. i faloh him alwayz.

i luv him alwayz.

mindy sayz i must tel him. but i cant wen his hart is ful uv mery vans. i cant wen the men are arownd. i cant when he thinks he is not a gud man. and he wil be angeree at me 4 lying 2 him.

pleez God let us get back to the Grace. then Captin will be hapee then i can tel him the trooth.

i no hoo 2 cal. Captin is in trubl withe lawz so he needz help withe lawz. the lawz uv this plays uv this tym. he needz McNally. i remembr how he rote his naym and i can find him with my phon. i wil cal him and ask 4 help 4 Captin.

 

 

The Last Captain’s Log

On this day, the First of October in the year 2011 anno domini, I do hereby record my intention to relinquish and abdicate my position as Captain of the ship the Grace of Ireland, and commander of her crew.

I record this as my intention and not an act for a single reason. I am not currently in possession of my ship, nor do I have before me my crew. When it is possible to achieve that confluence of circumstances, then will I declare this as a fait accompli. I record my intention so that, should I fall in the attempt to regain my ship and the freedom of her crew, they will know what was in my mind and my heart, and may act accordingly, without scruple or hesitation on my behalf.

To any of my men reading this: the Grace is yours. If she is mine to give, then I give her, in entirety and in perpetuity, to the collective ownership of all of the good men who came with her under my command from Ireland of old to this place and time. I make the obvious exception that Donal Carter, Ned Burke, and Sean O’Flaherty have no rights and no claim to the Grace. Any other men who survive should consider themselves the masters of the Grace and should dispose of her according to your wills. As for my body, let it rot; for my immortal soul, the same; my honor has been decimated and desecrated by I myself, and therefore I proscribe and deny any attempts to avenge me, to consecrate me, or to save me, should such noble intentions enter into your hearts. Do not. I am undeserving of justice.

 

With my signature I make this document of binding power and authority.

Captain Damnation Kane

 

***

 

There. ‘Tis done. As, it seems, I should have done long ago; perhaps if I had, then we would not now be here – in this now. Perhaps my men would all be alive. Surely I would be less of a damned fool, or if I were still a fool, if ‘tis the inevitable result of my being and not a momentary caprice of my fate, at the least the consequences of my folly would be insignificant, as they would affect only me and no other.

I must say, writing this, determining on this path, has lifted a terrible weight from my shoulders. First the weight of authority: I feel great solace in knowing that I will no longer need make decisions, or at the least that my decisions will affect none but my own self. Second is the weight of my mistakes: I have felt petrified, turned into stone, by the full and pernicious awareness of how I have failed, these past months. Yesterday I could not come to a single decision, not even when MacManus and O Dubhdoireann begged me to do so; I could think of nothing but how my failure had put those two stout men into the clutches of an extortioner, a worm as low as Brick Calhoun, who yet somehow was able to get the best of me. So when Shane and Kelly caught me up, walking slowly – plodding, trudging despondently – eastwards from Dame Margaret’s home, I could offer them no guidance, could not bring myself to command them. They asked whither we were headed; I said I knew not. They asked what we must do next; I said I could offer neither plans nor suggestions for them. They asked me what my wishes were; I said I had none.

So now, we have found a small copse of old trees where we may sleep on the ground. Kelly and MacManus have decided that we should prepare ourselves, so much as we are capable of it, for the course that lies ahead, and so they have sought out and purchased maps of the place we currently inhabit – the large Americalish city of Charleston, in a province called South Carolina – and of the great Atlantic to our east, and the coastline, and even of the island of Bermuda, which is our eventual destination. They have decided that we must accrue funds, and so we have acquired hats and masks, as in Florida when I played the highwayman with Lynch and McTeigue. We have raided three small shops of their dollar-papers. I have carried my weight as a fighter on these raids, but all of the commands and decisions have come from Kelly and Shane, who are clearly performing better than I could, as we remain uncaptured, without a threat of doom lowering over us, and we have already achieved our goal.

‘Tis further proof that I must not be Captain any longer. When we return to the Grace, I shall make it so in perpetuity.

Perhaps I should not wait. Perhaps I should simply relinquish all claims, all allegiances, and walk away. Brother Bob told me the country of America stretched west for thousands of miles; I should like to see that, I think. I have no reason to believe that I can return to mine own time, and though I would give much to see my mother once more, sure and there will come a day when I shall see her never again on this side of the veil. If it had not been this voyage, it would have happened when I fell in battle, or my ship sank in a storm, or a fever took her from me or me from her. And if none of those, then one day, age and time would sever our bond. Time has so done. Perhaps I should simply accept this as our eternal separation, grieve for her, and – continue.

Without the intent to return to my time, I have no more need for my ship. If I am gone, then my crew will have no reason to attempt to defend or recapture the Grace. They should have little trouble freeing themselves from Hobbes’s clutches – if he even holds them still – and he may have my ship to do with what he will. I wish him well of her.

I will consider this. I could send Kelly, Shane, and Lynch to aid the others, and to bear a message to Hobbes: I am gone, and the ship is his.

I will consider it.

 

***

 

Lynch has come, bearing messages. Seeing him as he approached our camp, I was struck with both shame at my indecision – for I have not yet reached a determination regarding my abdication, whether I should enact it immediately or once I have retrieved my Grace – and with anticipation that we might be moving forward, that Calhoun had arranged our passage and we might depart for Bermuda and the final stage of our quest. But ‘twas not so: instead, Lynch brought word, from two unexpected directions.

First, he brought a letter from Ian O’Gallows and Llewellyn Vaughn. I have read it over, and thought through it, and I see what they say and what they do not say: first and foremost, my ship and my men are indeed held in Bermuda, by Hobbes and an ally – said ally is likely that dark man I did see with Hobbes when we sank the Sea-Cat. The next most vital information is this: they have set us a trap. Ian and Vaughn spoke of Clear Island, where Hobbes tricked us with his derelict ship; I can expect something similar here.

Less clear are the details about this local man. They say he is a man of learning similar to my mother’s, and the man admires her work; do they mean her leadership of our clan? Her druid’s knowledge of the natural world? And what is all this about Raymond Fitzpatrick, and my blood? Fitzpatrick is from Belclare, as am I; I am sure that we have some blood tie far back, but I could not name nor delineate it, so minor must it be; why would he claim closer kinship? What do they mean, he paid the ultimate price? Has Hobbes murdered my man?

This settles the matter for me. Hobbes is killing my men, in hopes of luring me to him; therefore I cannot yet abandon my duties. We will go to Bermuda, find the Grace, free my men, and deal with Hobbes.

Then I will leave my ship forever, her Captain no more.

 

Ah yes – Lynch brought word, too, that Master McNally, who received this letter through Claude Navarre, who had it direct from Llewellyn through the mails of this time (And of course Hobbes and his ally read the letter’s contents before that; the absurdity about the boy’s trustworthiness makes that clear, and explains their need to be circumspect), desires to speak with me as soon as I can contact him. Lynch offered the lending of his eyephone, but my glare sufficed as response, and he left without another word, his thin shoulders slumped in defeat. I am shamed to have disappointed him. I will endeavor, this one last time, to stand and deliver a worthwhile result: enemies defeated, men freed. I wish to bid Lynch farewell fondly, not with downcast eyes. McNally can wait, though he has my gratitude for his continued kind friendship to us.

Damn that Calhoun, when will his arrangements be made? My patience, never large, has left me entirely. I fear I may go mad before we reach Bermuda.

Tcha. I have lost all else; why not my mind, as well?

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

Log #65: Damn Diary

Written on the Nineteenth Day of September

To Captain Damnation Kane

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Praying for our coming reunion,

We remain your loyal friends,

Ian O’Gallows and Llewellyn Vaughn

 

***

 

 

this is my log

i wil keep it on my phon

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

but i wil get betir

ihava phon

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

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

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

i wil mayk Captin prowd uv mee

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

log

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

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

hee make me angery

log

i think Captin is not al a good man.

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

Captin doo no thing.

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

shee is good wooman her name is mindy.

we tahk for owrz.

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

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

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

mindy smyl and say yu hav a crush on him.

i do not no wut shee meenz.

shee ask if i luv him.

i say i doo.

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

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

i spent the nyt with her wee tahk al nyt.

shee is my fren.

mindy and chester are my frenz. i have frenz.

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

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

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

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

shee is veree smart.

i wil do it for mee.

 

***

 

September 20

Dear Diary,

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

Nothing interesting has happened since he left.

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

 

September 23

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

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

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

I hate having red hair. And I hate men.

Yes, Diary. Him too.

 

September 25

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

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

I MAY GET SOME GOVERNMENT WASTE!

God bless America.

***

 

FuckshitfuckFUCKshitfuck oh, shit, oh fuck. FUCK!

Shit. SHIT!

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

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

Not Brick.

 

September 26

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

Now he brought me back Damnation Kane.

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

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

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

Then I slapped him.

I think I probably shouldn’t have slapped him.

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

Is that where he is?

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, God. Brick. Shitfuck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log #53: Saved

Captain’s Log

Date: August 31, 2011

Location: Same

Conditions: Well we’re not bloody poor any longer!

Aye, one problem solved, tho none o’ the others. We ha’ dollars in the treasury once more, as many as we had aforenow.

The word came down the pier, earlier today, might be four bell o’ the forenoon. There were some shifty men, they called ’em. Greasy, says I, dark and oily as Spaniards, and about as trustable, too. They say they be collectin’ for charity, like, raising funds for the relievement of those suffering from the storm. And when first I heard tell o’ this, by Lucifer I thought such to be an honorablous task, the sort o’ thing what came from fellowship as we ha’ found on this pier after this storm, with our Moorish mates and Cap’n Joaquin o’ the Belo Oceano, and the Chinamen and the Dutch and three boats of Americans, aye, we be a whole world o’ tars, ev’ry color and stripe here on Pier 83. I heard about these charitable lads and I did think, Good on ’em, tryin’ for some clink for those what do need it most. Tho I knew they wouldn’t be finding much to weigh ’em down in these parts, still, one must try. I thought o’ passin’ the hat amongst the boys, who still ha’ heavy pockets even if the ship’s treasury held naught but dust, for we shared out amongst ’em, on the way out to Erin, afore we met the Devil’s Lash. Nay, a mere three weeks gone? Slit my gizzard if it don’t seem like years and years since then!

But then I did hear a differing tale. It seems that these fine, generous souls, they were not quite asking for their donations, at least not after the first request. Turn them down and they became rather less amiable. I had this from Chester, a likely lad what lives with his mum and da and the whole bucket-full o’ family, down on a trim sloop named the Emperor Grable, such being the family name, struth. Chester and his da, a fine, clear-eyed squire name o’ Everett, ha’ been on their boat and watching the rendezvous occurring one ship to the north, on the Volare, a tiny pinnace of a craft that holds a gray-haired man and his apple-cheeked lady wife, Abraham and Stella Rosenblum, who sail ev’ry year between New York and Florida. Chester came and reported to me that his da bethought himself as the Rosenblums might need some assistance, mayhap o’ the strong-arm type, by gad. So I rousted up MacTeigue and Sweeney and Salty O’Neill, saw that MacTeigue and Salty were belted wi’ iron, and then we went to visit our friends downpier.

Once we gathered Bosun Kelly into our number, o’ course. Ha! Did ye think as how I’d not be bringing that great battle-ox to a hurly-burly? Perish the thought!

We did saunter down and saw, when Chester pointed, what might seem to be a mere friendly-like visiting: two lads, one near Kelly’s size but more in the gut and the arse than the shoulders and chest as with our boy, conversating with Squire Rosenblum. Lady Rosenblum came up from below, then, and handed some dollar-papers to the pair, and if I had not already seen that her man stood fearful, cringing away from the glowering bullyboys, the terror stark on that sweet old face would ha’ shown me that aye, we were needed. Squire Everett hopped off the E.G., and quickstepped to meet us. He pointed out a boxy white wagon-beast twenty paces westwards, where a third man sat, at his ease, with one arm out the porthole. Then he pointed, and I did see where a little trinket, that was the statue of a wee dog and a particular favorite o’ Lady Rosenblum, was now but shards smashed on the pier by the Volare’s rail. And I saw Squire Abraham draw his lady in close to his shoulder, and shield her from the two men.

I did point, and Salty and Sweeney peeled off and turned to the white wagon-beast and its passenger. I took Kelly and MacTeigue and went to have an amiable meet wi’ the Rosenblums’ unwanted guests.

“Hail, fellows, and well met we be!” I cried out, smiling for all I was worth as they slouched up the pier, the big lad tucking the Rosenblums’ dollars into his pockets, t’other looking to the Emperor Grable, where Everett had retreated wi’ Chester by his side and watching this unfold with wide eyes. “Be ye friends of the good ship Volare? Then ye be mates of ours, as well, by Saint Patrick!”

The smaller one, possessed of a selkie’s oily hair and a ferret’s cold black eyes, looked we three o’er, calculating. Then he did smile, and I saw his teeth were dirty. “Good afternoon, sir!” he spake twixt those stained ivories. “We’re from Save Our City, a local Brooklyn non-profit, and we’re asking for donations to help those affected most by this tragic hurricane. Could I bother you for a tax-deductible donation? Anything you can offer would be welcome. We accept cache!”

I but parted my lips, drawing breath to ask, “And who will be donating the cost of Lady Rosenblum’s broken pretty?” (Which question had, methought, a ready answer), when the donnybrook began and, near as quickly, ended. Salty and Sweeney, I should ha’ known, were not the two most subtle o’ lads; nor patient, neither. They reached the wagon, saw what was in the cargo hold (there were windows in the hatches on the back of the wagon), and simply grabbed the man inside and drew him out through the open window. Sweeney knocked the man’s pate against the wagon, and down he went.

When our two charitable fellows saw this come to pass, the larger one drew out a shooter and turned to aim it at MacTeigue and Kelly and me. But both MacTeigue and Kelly moved the quicker: MacTeigue had already laid hand on his pistola, and he cracked off a pair, aiming low, hitting the fat bugger in one o’ his pins. At same time, Kelly had swung his great bear’s arms up high, and wi’ a for’ard lunge, he brought ’em down, knocking the pistola from the fellow’s hand and crashing down on his crown, too. Just like that, the misbegotten scalawag fell flat, a-moanin’ and a-bleedin’.

The little one was quick, I’ll grant it. He had his knife out and slashing at me in half a wink, e’en afore his mate did pull the pistola, or dropped it. He caught me acrost the arm, just above my right hand, and drew first blood.

I did become angry, then.

‘Tis somewhat of a blur. There were blows struck, wi’ fist and foot and e’en me head, which, bein’ Irish and Scotch both, be harder than stone. I took another cut on my leg, and a graze on my jaw which might ha’ been a fist. But aye, the greasy wee ferret did take the greater part o’ the injuries done that day, what wi’ both eyes blacked shut and his nose gone awry and several grey teeth handily removed from his jawbone. I’m sure he would ha’ thanked me for the timely dentistry, but alas, he were unconscious at the time.

We emptied their pockets, stripped all three starkers, and then hung them by their thumbs wi’ ropes and lowered ’em into the waters. They woke up right quick when the salt hit their hurts. I confess we might ha’ added a cut or two wi’ the ferret’s blade, just on the lower half, one or two on the soles o’ the feet, like.

“Bring us up!” they did shout as we tied off the ropes, wi’ them three neck-deep in the salt, arms outstretched o’er their heads, and the water holding them up so their thumbs were not torn free, tho no thanks to us for such kindnesses.

“The blood brings sharks,” said we, and left ’em there.

In the back o’ that wagon? ‘Twas hundreds o’ dollar-papers, by Judas, all thrown about, alongside a bag o’ swag, some jewelry and some o’ those things what Chester tells me be called cell-fones, and don’t they seem t’ be mighty precious to these people, aye. And three more shooters, two pistolas and a sort o’ blunderbuss, the which was what Salty and Sweeney saw what brought the whole thing to fisticuffs so quicklike.

We gave back the Rosenblums’ money, and some more for the poor lady’s dog. And one o’ the pistolas for the gentleman, for sure and there be pirates in these waters. Ha. The swag we gave to Everett and Chester, to keep or dispose of as they will, as thanks for the weather eye and the timely warning. Everett and Chester and the rest came back t’ the Grace with us for some grog, and the three rogues got loose and swam away. Bad cess to ’em, robbing old gaffers and gammers like that.

And now we do be men of means. Wi’ our own wagon-beast, tho we know not the workings of it. Methinks we’ll give it away, if one o’ our new piermates cannot show us how to make it move.

Now we only need the Captain.

Setpembr 5

Wee fown him. Hee wuz at a in cald Johnny Green’s Bar And Grill. Hee iz drunk. Mor drunk than Iv ever seen. The inkeepr wantid munee but Macmanis showd him the pistola and wee took the Captin and went owt.

Hee iz durtee. Hee smelz oful. Thair iz drie blood on hiz fais. And hee iz so sad. I held him. I wantid to kis him but hee has pyook on hiz fais and blood and durt. Macmanis fown munee in Captins pokit and went to get a room so Captin and mee wuz alon. I wispir I lov yoo but hee wuz usleep.

I tor wut I rote owt of the log. Hee wont no. Hee wont lov mee bak. Hee lovs that hor Meredith.

Thank yu for maiking him saif God.

Log 7 September

Ye gods: my head. Goibniu and Hephaestus pound away at anvils, smithing great towers and walls and kingdoms of clanging, ringing iron in between my ears. ‘Tis a wonder my brains have not rattled into pudding and oozed out of my nostrils. Aye: perhaps they have: Athena knows I have been fool enough, this past – Christ’s balls, five days since I was on the train?

I was attacked. Set upon by ruffians, who took me entirely by surprise, beat me senseless, and stole from me nigh every dollar-paper – only a hundred or so left to me, crammed down into my smallclothes in the struggle, from where the monies had been tucked in my belt behind my shirt. If I recall correctly – and I may not, as they shook my brains for me, and then I pickled them well thereafter – ’twas the two men who watched us scale the chain-wall with Meredith in Charleston. They must have seen me take the money, and Lynch and MacManus take the pistolas, leaving me wealthy and vulnerable, the perfect target for highwaymen. I surmise they followed us onto the train, and then followed us off it; then when I made my way alone to the toilet, as they call them here (or else they say “bathroom,” which mystifies me as there is generally no bath at all, merely the chamberpots and basins for washing, far too small for proper bathing), they saw their chance and took it. I recall splashing water on my face, looking up into the mirror above the basin, seeing motion behind me – and then nothing. The gash on my brow tells me I was impelled into the wall or down on the white-stone basin, and then struck several times more, according to the lumps and discolorations of my brow and jaw. Though some of my bruises and lacerations may have come since then: because I apparently left the train-station under my own power, though without conscious thought, as I did not think to return to my companions for aid, and went straight to a tavern, where I proceeded to begin a sousing that lasted for three full days. Judging from my clothing, I slept in alleyways and puddles. I recall purchasing bottles of spirits and then staggering outside to drain them, though I know not how oft I did so. I recall being thrown bodily out of more than one establishment.

I believe I remember waylaying a man myself, when my dollars ran out before my thirst did.

And then I had a dream. A vision. I saw myself as I lay in the gutter, covered in filth and with only more corruption and foulness inside me, to match my outside appearance, and then I saw, standing over me, my mother. I was shamed to my bones, to have her see me thus, and I wept bitterly.

But she held me, and forgave me. She kissed my head, and told me that she loved me. I swear that I felt that kiss; I can feel it still, pressed to my brow like a true blessing.

And so I woke: cleaned, in a bed, with my men – my dear friends – nearby. They had found me, and succoured me, and brought me back to myself.

I know the truth of my vision. My mother waits for me. She will put her arms about me, and kiss me, once more in this world and in this life. That is all that is of any import. I must go to her. I must go to the one – the only one – who truly and unreservedly loves me.

I will reach my ship, and I will return to my home, and my proper age. This I do swear.

Though I know not how.

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

Log #52: Beloved Diary

September 4

Dear Diary,

Hooray! Nana’s home! She’s upstairs right now, asleep in her own bed. I’m going to stick around for a few more days to make doublesure she’s doing all right. I know it was only pneumonia, and Nana’s “healthy as a horse and tough as a sun-dried mule,” as she says, but she’s also no spring chicken. And she was sick for a long time.

I still can’t believe that fucking hospital gave her pneumonia. Well, gave her the infection in her lungs that turned into pneumonia later, after her biopsy (Thank God THAT was all clean and clear!). I keep telling her she should sue, but she won’t. They gave her free care and the private room for as long as she needed it, and too goddamn right they did, but those people will just keep cutting corners and taking stupid chances until someone dies. All those ridiculous people saying that we have the greatest health care system in the world, and Obamacare will make it terrible because it will be socialist – yeah, tell that to all the people who leave the doctor sicker than when they went! I tell you the Lord’s honest truth, little Diary, if they had killed my Nana? I would have come down on that hospital like Rambo.

Fuck. Now I’m crying.

All right, better. Mmm, that’s goooood whiskey! Anyway, Nana’s all right and she’s not dying and she’s never going to die, not if I have anything to say about it. I think after God took both of my parents when I was only 16, he owes me the longest-lived Nana there ever was. You hear me, God? Keep my Nana safe. You owe me.

I told Nana all about Mr. Mortimer Snodgrass of Butthole, Indiana, he whom she knows as Damnation Kane. I told her everything that happened: he and his two friends staying here, on the run from the police and the hospital, how he got a phone call at a payphone from some mysterious person, which is exactly what drug dealers do, and I surely mentioned that to her. But she just gave me the Nana-look, the same one I used to get when I tried to explain to her how my friends had kidnapped me and kept me out past my curfew even when I insisted to them that I must be home on time because I was a good and dutiful young woman of grace and character and a solid Christian upbringing.

Well, it is what drug dealers do. Okay, fine, drug dealers don’t usually bury wooden boxes full of cash – but shit, he surely isn’t a pirate!

Yes, I told her about the money box, and I told her about how he claimed he had never even heard of an airplane, and how he couldn’t drive and how he always looked terrified when I drove. (Nana said that was because I drive like a homicidal maniac. Ha ha, very funny, Nana. Oh, don’t forget to pay that speeding ticket.) And the look on his face when he saw the train! I told her I did not believe he was even injured, because the three of them didn’t have any trouble doing chores, or hopping the fence at the train station. (Though I did NOT tell Nana about that, how I bought them tickets but forgot you need to show ID at the station when you board, and then helped them sneak on the train anyway. God, I hope they weren’t terrorists! No, couldn’t be. Never mind. Just paranoid and thinking the worst.) I told her that I suspect he has a partner in that hospital (I decided he surely had a partner there, since that’s where he picked out his next mark for his con games, but it had to be someone low down on the totem pole, or else they would have known that Nana isn’t rich, she got a free private room because she had dirt on the hospital and she’s friends with the mother of the nastiest lawyer in Charleston, the one with his face on the side of buses and the 1-800 number. I bet his partner was that dipshit Nana had helping her out, the one who spent every waking second texting his stoner buddies) and that he was a conman after her money and that was all there was to Mr. Damnation Kane.

She was sitting in her chair, looking at the checkers board he bought for her (with the buried pirate drug money!) and smiling as she ran her fingers over the carved pieces. It is a beautiful set, I’ll give him that: Mr. Mortimer Snodgrass has excellent taste. And when I finished telling her everything about him, she looked up at me and said, “He certainly is handsome, isn’t he?” Then as I was spluttering that that wasn’t at ALL the point, that truly noxious things can come in very pretty packages, she just stood up, patted me on the cheek, and touched my cameo. Then she smiled and said she was going to bed. I don’t think I’ve blushed like that in five years. But just because he’s a liar and a conman is no reason not to wear the necklace, is it? It’s not like wearing it means I trust him, I certainly do not! It just so happens that it’s a beautiful piece that happens to look quite fetching on me. Where it came from is irrelevant.

Nana stopped just at the doorway and turned to look at me. “I do not know Mr. Kane’s story. Neither do you, girl. The man certainly has secrets, and that means that any lady, young or old, should be cautious with her heart where he is concerned. But whatever else he may be, Damnation Kane is a true gentleman, as true as any I have ever met. And you know that as well as I do.” And then she turned and left and went to bed.

Fuck and doublefuck. She’s right. Of course she is: she’s my Nana. She’s always right. Just ask her.

Captain’s Log

Date: August 27, 2011

Location: New York City

Conditions: Recovering

We be docked at a pier in a place called Brooklyn, in a city called New York. But I ha’ been in York, and by God and Christ and all the saints, this place be nothing like its namesake. As far as the eye can see, there be buildings, towers and forts and I ha’ not the tiniest shred of an idea o’ what they all be, but there be a mighty plenitude of ’em, aye, scupper me and sink me else. There be plenty ships in this harbor, too, and the Grace be near the smallest of the lot.

Aye, the Grace. She ha’ lost her foremast, as I did say, and the rudder be damaged below, we think, since her steering be as sloppy as me old gaffer a-comin’ home from the Fox’s Whiskers, God’s blessing on the auld fellow wheresoe’er he be. After we up anchor and staggered into dock, one last great wave came and crashed us into the pilings, and we ha’ sprung at least a hand of leaks, three of them quick ones.

But then, for a wonder, the boys in the ship hard alongside us, boys we’d never met, and they be as dark as Turks, and speaking some kind of heathen Moorish tongue, as well: they saw our plight, and tossed us down a grand tarpaulin, blue as a robin’s egg and slick as sausage grease, wi’ grommets in the corners. I gave a line to Lark Finlay, who can swim like a selkie, and he dove in and brought it under the ship and to t’other side, where he came up a rope ladder we lowered him. Then we brought the blue tarpaulin under the ship, brought it up and tied it fast. And by Neptune’s barnacled arse, the bloody leaks stopped dead! Well, we raised three cheers to our new Turkomen mates, and shared a keg o’ rum with ’em as well, by Lucifer.

We ha’ spent the last day and night trying to keep our ship afloat, and we joined the Turkomen, for one of them had good English, fellow named Mahmoud, in moving up and down the pier, calling on all the ships what had docked there, to see if they were in any need. Vaughn has been sewin’ and bandagin’ like a madman, for few o’ these people has any doctoring. Tho he be sending the real hurts off to the hospitallers.

I asked him about that. Seems like I ha’ seen ship’s surgeons take on the bad cases, the broken bones and the bullet holes, the men ripped up by fire and flying splinters after a sea battle. Why, I asked him, ha’ ye been passing by the ones what be needing your help the most? I didn’t ask, but was thinking: why did ye throw our Captain over to that poxy wart of a hospital, when we could ha’ kept him aboard, if Vaughn ha’ done his job proper-like.

Aye, and he told me, right enough. He asked me how many men I ha’ seen still talking and walking after a sawbones got into ’em, with the leeches and the knives and the clamps, and how many men I ha’ seen be wrapped in a sail and dropped o’erboard after. Aye. He be right. If that bloody place can keep the Captain alive, and Lynch and me mate Shane, as well, then good and proper, I name them.

But if they ha’ died, by the Morrigan’s claws, I’ll come down on that hospital like the plagues of Egypt.

But aye: ‘tween Vaughn’s skills and the boys’ hard work, both given freely to those in need, we are become well-loved. Much of our time here has been spent ashore, in truth, where the storm has thrown down all that was built up, and torn up all that was held down. Aye, very well-loved. O’ course, the rum and grog, of which we had a plenty, and which we ha’ shared out as freely as our backs and hands, has had somewhat to do with our newfound friendships, aye. But no matter: every crew o’ the Brotherhood shares a bond built with casks o’ rum. That or else the lash. God’s truth.

Captain’s Log

Date: August 29th, 2011

Location: Brooklyn Harbor

Conditions: As before.

Our friendships ha’ brought rewards, aye, burn me else. The Harbormaster came about looking after papers, documents, the De’il knows what-all. Such as we don’t ha’ none of, sure.

But our mates, they stood for us. The Captain from two ships down, what sails a merchant ship o’ sorts name Belo Oceano, came o’er and tore up the Harborman right well indeed. “Ask those men, those good men, for papers? They be heroes! They be savin’ lives and property! What the hell ha’ you been doin’ since that bitch Irene blew through, sittin’ on your own dick?” Aye, we had a good roarin’ laugh o’er that one, later. He’s a good man, he is. Portugee. Name o’ Verrasow or some such. Joaquin be his Christian name, and he insists we use such. Cap’n Joaquin ha’ told the harborman that if we were smugglers, we’d not sail on an old wood ship wi’ masts and canvas, an’ if we be boat people, he called it, tho I know not what he meant, then we’d not still be aboard but would ha’ skarkered off to the city streets in the madness after the storm. I sent Vaughn in to ease the tension, for Cap’n Joaquin was right scarlet wi’ rage, spittin’ and fumin’ like Stromboli fit to burst, and Vaughn told the man as we were a pleasure craft a-cruising to Bermuda from Ireland, what got caught in the storm and blown westward to shore. He said as soon as we was repaired proper, we’d be off again, and none the worse for it.

And then we bribed the rotten bastard. Took up what was left of our treasury, may God blight his bones with pox and pus.

We still need a mast, and ha’ no thought how to find one. The leaks be sealed but not repaired, as we ha’ no place to careen and patch, and no way to leave here without a working rudder. We can ha’ the Grace lifted out into dry dock: they ha’ mechanicals what can take ten times her tonnage, and berths that’ll hold twenty times her length and beam. But such costs plenty o’ clink, and we be near out. We ha’ gratitude and friendship from the ships on our flanks, but they ha’ nae money too.

We need Nate. But he’s not here, and we cannot call him. The telephones be out, Vaughn says.

I don’t know what to do.

Setpembr 4

Wee havint fown the Captin yet. We surch the streets. We fown the jail an askt but no Captin. Wee surch al the beest waginz. Al the shops.

Its warm and wee sleep in aleez. Mee an Macmanis. Hiz leg hurts. My syde hurts. Wen Macmanis sleeps I reed this log.

Hee lovs hur. Hee sez so. Alot. Goddam tal skinee red hed bitch showing hur tits al the tyme. Wy do they al look at tits? Jus big bumps. Lyke cows. Jus maik milk an if they dont then no good at all jus flop arown. So wat?

Hee lovs hur.

I lov him. All hee sez abowt hur I think abowt him. I lov him. Wen I look at him my hart powns so hard it hurts but it feelz good. Heez so beauteous, lyke hee calz hur. Tal an strong an so braiv an so smart. Hee saivd my lyfe agin an agin. I want to kis him. Lyke hee kist hur. I want him to giv mee a pritty neklus. I want him to look at mee lyke hee looks at hur.

Hee wont. I no.

I jus want him to bee saif and sown.

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Log 51: Dear Diary

September 3, 2011

Dear Diary,

Wow – can’t be that dear, can you? I haven’t written in you in years, not since – hold on.

God. Not since Mom and Dad.

Well that was unexpectedly painful. Looking back, seeing what I wrote about them right after their funeral felt like I swallowed a great big ball of ice and it burned all the way down. Still hurts. Hurts to swallow and my stomach hurts. I wish you could be here, Daddy, to hug me. Mom, you too, even though you weren’t the hugging type. But that was me, too. I was always Daddy’s Little Girl. Even became a pilot, Dad, just like you. Even after it killed you and Mom. People never understood about that. Especially not Nana. “How can you get in one of those contraptions after all it took from you? Do you want to end up the same way?”

Yes, actually, Nana, I would love to end up the same way. They were so happy. They were so in love, so totally enchanted by each other that sometimes they even forgot about me, sort of, but that was OK because I had Nana, and she always paid attention to me.

Haha, sometimes she paid too much attention. Remember that time when she heard through her winevine (She always called it that. “Because the grapes have aged, girl. But they matured into a fine and potent vintage, yes indeed.”) about me running around with Carey Broussard, and how we used to ditch school and go parking in his car behind the Episcopal Church, and Nana was so outraged she marched down there looking for us, and she found us, alright, buck naked and humping like, well, like horny teenagers in the backseat of a Lincoln Towncar. My stars, I believe I’m actually getting a bit misty remembering that car. It was very comfortable, indeed. Carey not so much, though that is no criticism: I’d rather a man be – let’s say, exciting than relaxing. And it was certainly not relaxing when my Nana came right up to the window and yelled, “Meredith Rose Vance, you get off that boy this instant! How dare you, girl? In the very shadow of the Lord’s House? Even if those Episcopals are heathens and heretics, they are Christians and do not deserve to have their property turned into a place of sin! And on a school day!” Haha, I don’t know what upset her most, that I was ditching school, that I was having sex near a church, or that it was an “addlepated lump” like Carey Broussard, if I recall correctly how she referred to that young man. Well, she was right about Carey. Of course, Nana was right about everything: just ask her. Carey was a dim bulb, yes indeed. But so cute! That jet black hair, and those blue eyes, and that little half-smile, mmmm oh yes. And he was always happy to let me be on top. In the pilot’s position, as we say. We pilots always love to be on top. In command. You understand, I’m sure.

Speaking of cute boys . . . That’s why I started writing in you in the first place, Diary Dear. Because I’ve been living with a man. A very handsome man. Under my Nana’s own roof! My stars and garters, the scandal, Miss Scarlett! Haha. Well, to tell the truth and shame the devil, I’ve been living with three men. Three outlaws. Irish outlaws, for a fact. But only one of them was cute. One was a little too rough-looking – so many scars! And the other was just a teenager, 14 or small for 15. But oh, Diary, that one!

All right. Enough. It’s been fun pretending to be a giggly schoolgirl, but I’m not. And yes, he was cute, lean muscles and strong hands, black hair and bright green eyes, but he was not all that he seemed. I do not believe him. I do not believe he and his friends are Irish. I do not believe his name is actually Damnation Kane. Damnation! Who names a child that in this day and age? Or any day and age, for that matter? I do not believe that his manners were actually that fine, like an Old World nobleman, like a Southern gentleman is supposed to be and none are, in my personal experience, not a one.

Though he never did try anything while he was here that would have forced me to deck him. Not even when I flirted shamelessly in my yoga clothes. And he did give me the loveliest gift I believe I have ever received. And the loveliest kiss, too. Oh, yes.

But here’s what I believe about Mr. Damnation Kane. I believe he is a con artist. I believe he put on a fine manner to get into my Nana’s good graces. I believe he has read romance novels. Probably quite a number, actually, for he did seem intelligent and literate, I will say. It was his writing in his own logbook, he called it, which inspired me to dig this old diary out again.

Stop it, Meredith! He is a con artist, and a LIAR. There. That’s better. As I was saying, he read romance novels and found that modern women swoon over the Old World type, most especially with an accent. Yes indeed, my God, that accent! No. Stop it! Be strong. He said he never heard of an airplane. Never heard of an airplane! Didn’t recognize the word!

No. It was a lie. Everything he said. I will bet that his name is actually Mortimer Snodgrass, that he hails from the slums outside of Pittsburgh, and that he steals money from lonely old ladies, using a fake Irish accent when he learns the lady has an Irish name, and a private hospital room, which tells him she has money to steal. And he’s had plastic surgery. Extensive plastic surgery, like butt implants. And he wears a toupee. And has a tiny little uncircumcised dick.

He’s just a con artist, that’s all. And he used Nana and me to get out of paying his hospital bill, and then once he was on the street, he went and made some connection with his dealer, at that payphone. Digging up $5000 in cash, indeed! And a pistol, too! And then I bought him and his two friends a free train ticket to New York! God, Meredith! How did your Nana raise such a fool?

Well, fool me once, shame on you, Mr. Mortimer Snodgrass of Butthole, Indiana (I have decided that he is actually from Indiana. From a small, ugly town called Butthole. Where he was raised by possums and one-eyed alley cats.) Fool me twice, and I will break you in half. And I guarantee you will never come near my Nana again. Good riddance to him. Bad rubbish.

He said it looked like me. It does. He said he would love me forever. And he kissed me like he meant it.

Fuck.

***

Captain’s Log

Date: August 12, 2011

Location: Charleston Harbor

Conditions: Christ’s blood and bones, I don’now. Bad. Could be worse yet, aye.

Captain Kane be off of the ship now, so I do think this falls to me. Ship’s Surgeon insisted three of ours be left with the medics of the here-and-now, else they’ll not live, says he. So my dear friend and Captain, along with two other of our finest boys, ha’ been handed o’er to whosoe’er Surgeon Vaughn finds who’ll take o’er the keeping of them. I don’now. It feels right bloody awful, and no lie, that. I be ‘gainst leaving men behind in any cause, and the Captain? We sail his ship without himself on board? Bloody close to mutiny, and we seen enough of that, aye, and twicet enough.

But we cannt stay. The cursed Devil’s Lash Hobbes may follow, and we must draw him away from our fallen mates. Vaughn and I and MacTeigue spoke on it: Hobbes did not fire on us, even with the greater weight of cannon. His men tore up the deck, but we were all below, as he had to see; sure and they meant to stop our sailing and board us. So he does not want us all dead, nor this ship sunk. He wants the ship, or he wants her crew alive and captive, or he wants both. And what greater prize than the Captain his own self? We cann’t stand guard, not against those damned thunder-guns.

And so like a bloody mother bird we must limp away from the nest where our helpless bairns lie, trusting that the bloody serpent will not find them despite the ruse. Praying too that we can escape our own selfs, at the last moment.

I ha’ managed to sniff out somewhat as will help us in our limping. While Vaughn and Kelly and four of the boys took the Captain and Lynch and MacManus away to the sawbones, MacTeigue manned the Grace at anchor in the harbor, and Salty O’Neill and I did cast off into the city to seek supplies. A simple question to the nearest native who did not look o’er-doltish, and we were directed to a Rite-Aid. We walked the aisles, Salty and me, o’ercome by all the whatnots and hugger-mugger, until a man asked if we be needing help finding anything. Aye, sure enough, did we. I mere showed the man the clink I carried, tho it be o’ the folding kind, not the clinking kind, in truth, some 500 of the dollars they use here-and-now, and said I had friends wi’ small hurts, cuts and sores and burns and the like. We put ourselves in his hands, and he did lade us heavy, aye. We thanked him, paid him, returned to the ship and tossed it all into Vaughn’s cabin to sort out on his return. Then we went, in cover o’ night, to a spot nearby where we buried somewhat against the Captain’s need when he recovers.

Now we do wait. When Vaughn returns, we’ll set our course (I think to the north, as the south holds enemies and the east the same) and then sail, ready for whate’er may come.

Pray it be nothing at all.

Ian O’Gallows, Mate of the Grace of Ireland

Captain’s Log

Date: August 13, 2011

Location: North of Charleston, in a wooded cove.

Conditions: Nae so fine as a king, nor so poor as a corpse.

We ha’ laid up, near forty miles north of Charleston, where we left the Captain, by a part of the coast that be unpeopled, to our eyes and ears. Here we stay while the men recover to Vaughn’s satisfaction. MacTeigue took Rearden and Doyle ashore to hunt, came back with half a brace of fowl and a wee hog, so we feasted well.

***

We will stay for two days, no more. I do feel a prickle at the back o’ my neck, as if someone watches and stalks closer with every hour. ‘Tis maddening.

Captain’s Log

Date: August 17, 2011

Location: 300 miles north, fifty east of last position, near enough.

Conditions: Weather glorious, men healed, sails fixed. All is well, but for the men we left behind.

Aye, life be fine and good. I struck a bargain with Vaughn, who wanted to lay up until the men were full healed and the ship repaired. We took damage to sails, rails and rigging from the thunder-guns. Nothing we could not fix aboard, but it all takes time, particular the splicing of new cordage. But I did not trust the Devil’s Lash to stay away from our backs. So we sail a night and a day, and rest a night and a day, and so hop north by degrees. Every time we lay up, and then again before we weigh anchor, Vaughn goes ashore and calls for the Captain as he arranged. So far, nothing.

The salves and bandages I ha’ from Rite-Aid be wonders: a hurt heals twicet as fast under ’em as without ’em. We be good as new. Surely they ha’ the same for Nate and the boys?

Any road, we be ready for the Captain’s return, at last. We ha’ finished repairs from the battle, at last, and the men be well enow to scrub the last of the blood from the deck. Nate’s blood clung harder than any other stain. Took two extra holystonings before the planks was clean. He bled more than the rest of us. And even his blood cleaves to his ship, aye, God’s truth.

Captain’s Log

Date: Devil take it, who knows?

Location: We’re in a harbor somewhere, and thanks to Christ for it.

Conditions: Neptune’s beard, we’re right well fucked.

Lord God Amighty, surely this storm was blown from Gabriel’s trumpet itself, to sound the Day of Judgment and bring all us sinners to the Heavenly Seat for our eternal rewards. Or else we already be judged, and this be our infernal home, now. Storm-wracked seas and a crippled ship to sail ’em.

Bloody tired. Wrung out. ‘Tis a day and a night of fighting, fighting the waves that try to turn us and roll us, thrash us and break us, and wash us o’er the side all the while. A day and a night of fighting a wind like I’ve only seen twicet, maybe three times, or four? Not very bloody oft afore now, and never one that’s lasted so cursed long! Skin my eyes, the spray reaches higher than the mast! The waves be walls of water, keeps, castles, whole bloody cities of sea-green and salt, tossed at us again and again and again!

The blasted wind near tore the mast off when the first blow fell. We were riding with it, meaning to stay ahead of it. Fools to think we could. I heard the mast creak, felt the deck shudder as the collar and bolts strained to hold on, but the wind was as fierce as God’s wrath. But the ship would not fly with it! And that be the trouble, aye. We lowered the sails, almost lost Sweeney o’erboard doing it, and lashed tight for a storm, all hands below but for a lookout for rocks before and the steersman and myself aft, and two men at the pumps at all times. We did finally lose the foremast. A wave struck us, taller than the sides of the ship, and did sweep across, and take the mast with it. Thanks be that the boys at the pumps were lashed to rings set in the deck. The mast were weakened by that first wind, and the canvas was heavy with rain and spray. One more blow was all it took.

But ‘pon my blackened soul, I ha’ seen this ship take blow after blow after blow, and ne’er the worse for it. We ha’ sailed through storms before, some black-hearted and fire-spitting beasts of the sky, and always, the Grace ha’ sailed true to her name, dancing atop the waves and flying with the wind. She did not sail so, for us. Mayhap this storm was the king – the emperor – of all such cattyclisms. More like, Nate be a finer commander than I, with a bloody fine sense for the true course to take to move through the storm and not ‘gainst it.

All I know is this. This ship sails better for Nate than it e’er will for another. Even one who sails her with his blessing. Which I hope I have.

We near wrecked a dozen times, rolled by waves or crashed on rocks. But we made safe. We came into a great sheltered bay, which blocked the worst of the waves from us. With naught but the blasted devil’s wind, we could steer better, though still the ship turned slow and sailed heavy in the water. She mopes. She pines for her Captain, says I. We can see nothing of the land, apart from dark shadows less than a mile off. ‘Tis night now, and the storm eases but still blows hard. We be at anchor, riding o’er the waves, small swells as in Irish seas and familiar. I ha’ recorded our plight. Now I must sleep. And if I ne’er wake, may Neptune choke on my bones!

Ian o’Gallows, mate, Grace of Ireland

Septembr 2 I think

Wee havint fown the Captin. Wee surcht al the train-hal. Wee crept unseen into the bak of the hal. Wee wur not alowd thair but wee went aneewai. Hee wazint thair.

I fown blood wen I fown the log. It wuz in the pissroom. Maihap hee wuz hurt. Is the blood hiz? Hee wuz so mad on the train lyke hee went mad lyke I dont no the wurd but troolee mad. Hee cood uv hit sumwun. Maid them bleed.

Hee woodint leev his log. Wood hee? Hee woodint leev us. Captin is loyul. Captin iz alwaiz loyul.

No. Hee woodint leev us. I wil prai wee fyned him.

MacManis askt sumwun. A man saw a tal man with blak hair cum owt uv the pissroom with blood on his fais and hee wuz stumbuling lyke hee wuz hurt. The man askt if hee wuz alryte and the bloodee man sed I, I bee fyne az a sumir breez. That sownz lyke Captin. The man sed the bloodee man went owtsyde. Wee ar leeving the train-hal. Macmanis thinks wee can fyned him kwiklee. Hee iz asking abowt the sittee owtsyde the train-hal and I am ceeping the log for Captin. I prai wee wil fyned him. I prai hee wil bee saif.

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

Log #49: Gifts and Departures

Log

Ah gods, devils, my heart – my brain – my eyes!

‘Tis all too much. Surely some dam must burst, some wall crumble. An inferno will rage forth, and flesh will melt and bones will char, and perchance the Earth will open and swallow me whole. I hope it does.

It is not – pain. It could be pain. Part is. The heart – there is pain there. But there is so much else. All in the same moment – and in the next, twice as much again! Thrice!

I will close my eyes. Perhaps oblivion, even for a heartbeat, will save me from exploding.

Later – eight bells o’ the first watch

I am better now. Stab my liver, but I must have been a spectacle an hour gone! There were tears rolling down my cheeks like rainwater, my breath bellowing and steaming like a bull’s. I could not hold my limbs’ shaking nor keep my eyes from rolling. A proper madman, I was.

I am.

No. I will not think it all, nor allow it to overwhelm me anew. I am but a man, and weak – but I am a man. Weakness will not rule me.

One at a time, then. And bless this humble pen and paper: ’tis my crutch, my balm, my confessor and confidante. I do not understand why it should be that writing out my sorrows and my vexations in ink should lessen their weight on my heart, but it is so, and has ever been since I began this log – aye, two months ago? Is’t all? Christ’s tears.

Aye. One at a time.

My heart aches. ‘Tis hollowed out, a gourd emptied and dried and left to harden and wither to stone. It was so full; this is why it is now so very empty. I did love Meredith Vance – aye, still and all I do, in truth – and she did begin to love me. I know. I did see it in her eyes. ‘Twas the gift I gave – and perhaps the leavetaking after. Many’s the time I have seen strong men weep and hard women soften, as the ship sails from harbor and the loved one shrinks from sight, diminishing and dwindling mile after mile but still visible all the way to the horizon: ’tis the hardest way to say goodbye, to watch them fade from sight over a time, bit by bit by bit. And such a leavetaking makes the heart swell and tear and burst as the love is drawn forth from it, drawn to the departing one like iron to a lodestone, like an anchor torn loose from its mooring by the inexorable pull of the tide. To say goodbye is to know the strength of your love, and so, methinks, it was with Meredith Vance. Sure it was so for mine own love, mine own heart now torn asunder.

Aye, the gift: our passage departed in the eventide, about three bells of the first watch, and so we had this past day to ourselves, as Meredith was employed once more. I did look to the sky more this day than before, and I wondered: is that speck a bird, or a winged beast-wagon filled with madmen and imminent saints? By Hermes, they fly. She flies. She captains a ship that sails on aether. No – I cannot. One thing, each for itself. The gift.

We three – Lynch, MacManus and I – made use of Sir Thomas’s guiding maps, and we found our way to streets of shops, where we purchased what was needful: new clothing for all three – closer to proper finery ’tis, but the boots – fah! If one be not a woman, this world offers naught with any spirit or flair. Square and clunky as a Spanish galleon in dead calm, my feet are in these – boots. Ugly as a warthog and half as soft, as well, and the color of an ill babe’s shite – why do they wear these? Fah. Hades take them. But aye, we purchased attire, and some small supplies – the grocer, when we inquired as to food prepared for journeying, proffered us items called granola bars and beef jerky – ship’s biscuit and hardtack, says I, but I give them their due: in all my years of eating ship’s biscuit and hardtack, this is the most tasteful and savory I have struck. Easier to chew, as well.

By Athena! I cannot stay on a single thought. There is too much! This was the thought, and the sensation, that tortured my mind two hours ago, ere I slept. Aye – I slept, did I not say? Driven to slumber by exhaustion of mind, of body, of soul; driven to sleep despite my surroundings and circumstances. And the madness that consumed me was this: there is too much on which I must think, and too many errant thoughts that capture my mind and steal it away from its intended and useful heading – I fall off the course of my thoughts at the smallest sight, at the merest oddity, and fall to rapt contemplation of same, like a small child given a new toy who then casts it aside to play with a pretty stone, which is in turn abandoned for a puddle of water. And because the whole world is new to me now, there is distraction – everywhere. I cannot grasp it, for too many fall to my hand. I cannot steer straight, for the winds come from all directions, all at once. It is mad – I fear I may be mad, soon if not now. When my heart is filled, as well, as it was with the sorrow of my departing love – well, my cup runneth over, so they do say.

But: once more, I will attempt focus, once more sally forth into the swirling madness of my brain to seek out a path that may lead me to safety and surety. We did visit the shops. We bought clothing and shod our feet, and found supplies (The which we did not need, it obtains, but later for that.). ‘Twas then, after the grocer, that I found a pawn shop, much like Morty’s of Florida – but with a proprietor who was courteous and helpful, rather than a black-hearted bastard with acid in his tongue and an arsehole for a mouth. There I bought gifts for Margaret and Meredith – and for Lynch and MacManus, too, for they have been stout and true, following me loyally despite my floundering, my failure to lead so well as they follow. For Lynch – who had seemed most irritated by the purchasing of attire, as he could find naught that fit him well, particularly shoes for his feet: all were too large for those dainty flappers of his and would chafe him raw where he to wear such; we did at last find a decent shirt and breeches in a shop that sold to children, which near slaughtered his pride – for Lynch I found a proper pair of boots, decent leather if a bit cracked, with turn-down tops and brass buckles, and a finely tooled belt to match. They fit him perfectly, and he flushed with joy at the gift, the soft-hearted lad. For MacManus I found a cane, the which he needs, as he was limping badly ere the end of our excursion, and we have many miles yet to go – ah, but to assuage his wounded pride, and to serve our needs well, as even an injured MacManus is a warrior both doughty and ferocious as the situation commands, this cane is in truth a weapon: the top hand-and-a-half make up the hilt of a sword which draws forth from the rest of the cane, which is scabbard for it. ‘Tis good steel, a full two feet in length, near as well-crafted as my Libertad. ‘Twill serve MacManus well, and thus all of us. He is as pleased as Lynch.

For our kind savior and hostess, Margaret Boyle Flanagan, I found a draughts board carved from ash-wood by a proper Irish craftsman: ’twas decorated with Celtic knots and suchlike, the counters each carved with the likeness of trees native to Ireland, rowan and holly and oak and pine. ‘Tis a lovely thing, but still far short of the debt we owe her. Still: Meredith assured me that she will adore it, and so I am satisfied.

And for Meredith. For Meredith I found a necklace, a thing of beauty surpassing any such accoutrement I have yet seen in all my years of plundering. ‘Tis a fine silk ribbon, in a deep green that complements the maid’s beauteous eyes, that carries an oval carved of ivory and circled by reddish gold filigree, and on the oval is carved an image – a dark shadow of a face. The proprietor called it a cameo, and the shadow a silhouette, words he kindly wrote out for me. ‘Tis a gorgeous piece, but what’s more – what brought it to my hands, calling out for to grace my love’s delicate throat, was this: that shadow, that silhouette – it is hers. Aye, it was carved a century before, yon pawnman told, but I swear it is Meredith’s true likeness.

I gave it her on the porch of Margaret’s home, as the sun shone through the trees and set her hair alight with golden glory amid the flames of her tresses. I told her that now her beauty would last, carved in ivory, for a thousand years – as it would last in her for all of her life, and would last in my heart for all of mine.

She kissed me, then. Her fire set me alight. I burn still.

I cannot write more of this.

But an hour later, we found ourselves at the – the station, Meredith called it, the place where the trains arrive and depart. ‘Twas there that my mind filled, as my heart had, for – a train? That is what they name this?

A dragon, says I.

It is as long as a road – longer by far than any man-o-war or ship of the line, longer than anything I have seen built by men, even in this time. It is steel, from end to end, though pierced by glass windows – ’tis finer armor than anything worn by the noblest cavaliers of King Charles’s court. The beast must weigh more than London Bridge. And it moves. It screamed as it arrived, and hissed out breath; it chuffs, like a bull readying to charge, as it moves – and it is as fast as the beast-wagons which it dwarfs.

Our departure on the dragon was somewhat troublous. We arrived at the station a full turn of the glass before the appointed hour for casting off; indeed, the monster was not yet there. Meredith went to a magic window set in a sort of cabinet; she pressed various switches and touched the face of the magic window here and there, and soon the cabinet ejected three rectangles of stiff parchment – our tickets, Meredith named them. But as she gave them us – each printed with our own names – her movements slowed and she frowned at one of the parchments. Her consternation tugged at me, and I placed a hand on her arm. “What is it, lass?”

She looked up, past me, to a place where large doorways opened to the outside, and where a number of folk were in a queue, leading to a man in livery behind a counter. “Shit,” she said. “I forgot about that.”

My touch became a gentle squeeze – and such a fool am I, even this set my blood racing. “What, lass? What’s amiss?”

She turned to me and said, “You can’t get on the train here. I forgot, you need eye-dee.” My query clarified this to identification, such as the portrait cards of St. Vincent’s. Just then, as if to illuminate our need, the train arrived, with a shriek and a hiss that had we three Irishmen, with our stout hearts and battle-hard nerves, pale and shaking, though babes and grannies but smiled at the horrendous sounds. We saw yon steel leviathan creeping by, through the doorways beside the queue and counter, and we exchanged a wide-eyed glance.

“Come on,” Meredith said. “Hurry.” And we departed through the door by which we had entered, away from the dragon-train, at a near run – as near as Lynch and MacManus could handle.

Meredith stopped us again, just without. The station-house was a long, low building of brick and stone, not terribly large, perhaps two hundred paces in length and fifty in breadth. To either side stretched a sort of screen, of bright metal in a checkered pattern, like a wall of chainmail links. ‘Twas near the height of a man, and did naught to conceal the mighty beast that crouched behind it, which immediately arrested we three.

“You can’t take the bag,” Meredith spake, her words quick and terse. “Here, over here.” She drew us to a corner of the station-house, somewhat concealed, and there opened the bag wherein we had put our old clothing, our supplies, and the atlas she had given us – along with our pistolas and the wooden box holding our remaining dollar-papers, some three thousand after our purchases. She rummaged through the bag, withdrawing the box and handing it to me, and the two pistolas, which she thrust at MacManus – who, not expecting her agitation, dropped them a-clatter at his feet. Lynch stooped and retrieved them, tucking one in his belt and handing the other to Shane, with somewhat more success this time. To me, Meredith said, “Take the cache out, leave the box. Hurry.” I quick opened the money-box, took out the dollar-papers and thrust them in my pockets, dropping the box atop the bag of now-discarded goods. I grasped her design as she stood, then, and walked to the linked-chain screenwall. She looked around briefly for observers and then placed her fingers and toes in the holes in the screen, preparing to scale it.

Ah: a surreptitious entry. This was a task we grasped. “Not there, lass,” I called. I looked around more carefully than she, and saw two men smoking tobacco-sticks; they had spied us rummaging through the equippage, and watched us now. We needed better cover for this subterfuge. I motioned to my men, and led our party to a place I spied a dozen paces farther along, where a pair of stout trees grew close by the screen wall, which would offer assistance in climbing and concealment, too. The two smoking men had turned away, losing interest – now was the moment. We scaled the barrier behind the trees’ cover, with main ease, though MacManus turned pale and sweated with the exertion, and Lynch grunted and stumbled when he dropped to his feet on the far side.

There before us was the dragon, massive steel body stretching away for – five hundred paces? More? Longer than the station-house, it was, and my mind boggled at it. Meredith had to coax us into movement, but we quickly recovered from the shock sufficient to trot after her, to where the orderly queue within had become a milling crowd; we slipped into their midst, and none the wiser about our uncommon approach.

Meredith steered us to another liveried man – an officer of the dragon-train, I surmised – and we proffered our tickets, and were instructed to enter the portal in the monster’s side. We took our leave of my lady – of which I cannot write – and we made our way into the dragon’s belly.

And within? Every creature comfort, we found! There are – toilets, just as the houses here possess, for elimination. With sinks! With water! And there are cushioned seats which lay back into near-beds, and lights, and a voice that speaks from the air and announces to the passengers – of which there are hundreds, perhaps a thousand, all carried in safety and sheer sumptuousness inside a dragon’s belly – announces to them the sights that can be observed out of the windows, and – I could not believe it, I would not believe it, had I not heard it with my own ears and, driven by irresistible curiosity, confirmed this with my eyes – food. Supper, a meal service, a fine, fresh-made repast, served at table, on plates, with cutlery, with liquid refreshment of various potations of wine and ale as well as water – and milk! – served hot from kitchens, in a place named the dining car. Served as we fly forward, rumbling and clacketing, hissing and screeching, occasionally trumpeting out a call louder than any beast that walks this Earth. We ride inside a dragon – and we feast.

We ride towards my ship, and my men, and once there, I will again take up command. I know not where we will go, nor what we can do to improve our lot.

We ride away from the woman I love, who, it seems, loves me as well – her kiss told me so, and most eloquently. I may never see her again.

My mind is full, and my heart empty. Love and madness, hope and despair.

Ah, gods, ah, devils: take me now.

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Log #48: Cannot

Log

August 31

 

By the gods, what a wonder she is! I know not what great service I provided, what Herculean task I completed, that earned me this magnificent favor, this gift of fortune that allowed me to meet, and – though she knows it not – to love the inestimable, the ineffable, the incomparable Meredith Vance.

I pray none observe me now – I think not; all are abed – for one could not cast his gaze on me and fail to know me for a man in love. I sigh, I pace the floor and pause, my gaze wandering afar through dreams, dreams of her, ever of her. Then I return, to write in this log, of my passions, my inamorata, my joy, my love.

Christ, I am a swooning maiden.

I confess. I find myself hoping that some happenstance might occur which would permit me to woo and win this glorious creature. I know it will not come to pass. I must depart, now, and plunge back into a life of turmoil and travail, where I am beleaguered by enemies implacable, both lawful and malign; where I will, if the gods smile on my once more, return to a world where I would not have her live, even could she accompany me, for my Ireland is no place for a beautiful woman. Not where the English bastards roam the countryside. Like my thrice-damned father.

I have wondered if this, all of this, is but a dream, a phantasm created in my fevered brain by some ailment, by an injury, inflicted on me in my natural time, my natural state; perhaps I am dead, brought down by the Devil’s Lash, and this is – what? Limbo? Elysium? The White Shores of Avalon? Are we on the shores of Styx in Hades’s realm, only waiting for the Boatman to collect us? How could one know if one is in this world, or that world? Or adrift on the mind’s tides?

But here is my hope. Aye: unreal this world seems; in truth, often so. But what mad god would have made this place his Heaven? And surely, if I suffer the fate for which I was named – what infernal mind could comprehend such loveliness as Meredith? Such courage as Margaret? Such kindness as James McNally, or Maid Flora Lopez, or my Lady of Joy? I cannot believe these good souls would share my accursed doom, and I cannot think that Lucifer himself could have imagined them thus merely to torment me.

Nay: this is the world of men, and I merely one such, muddling my poor benighted way through it. I cannot love Meredith Vance, not without dragging that shining beauty down into the quagmire that pulls at me.

Oh, but if I could love her: how I would love her.

Aye: there be reason why I began to record, before my swollen heart overcame me – reason, indeed, why my mind is so whelmed by thoughts of her. ‘Tis she who has proven invaluable in the setting of our course – who has served as the pilot in our lives, illuminating the path through these shoals and to our home – our ship, our friends. Now we must see if we three babes, lost in wilderness, can navigate the course she has set.

I suppose my fevering brain turned such this last night, for I could not rest: my mind raced with questions and fantasies, and scheme after scheme for how we might reach our goal. I was relieved of one fear when I spoke to Vaughn – but then I was filled with new conceits, new fears and hopes, which robbed me of my repose.

Not so my men, thankfully, who need the rest more than I; when the dawn broke, they emerged, looking hale and lusty, color in their cheeks and fire in their eyes. And – of course – they came to me, prepared to hear the plan for how we would reunite with our company. This was the moment I had feared – or at least one such. For I knew not. The night was wasted in idle mindlessness, devoid of purpose, my thoughts a chaos that might meander thus: We must make our way to New York. But we know not the way. This place is so large, so very strange! Would that we were home – but we cannot attempt that trip, not with Nicholas bloody Hobbes straddling the ocean and blocking our path. Gods, keep that bastard from finding my Grace before I can reach her! We must make our way to New York! But we know not the way . . .

And so on, and ever, ever on.

Howbeit, I am no fool to encumber my men with the weight of my own empty pride – for pride has more weight, but less substance, than any other part of man. When Lynch and MacManus came to me and asked after our course, I admitted that I had no idea, and had been unable to see our way. I asked my good shipmates to help me, to give counsel, wisdom, and advice.

And then were we mightily distracted, for Meredith passed through my chamber, where we three sat and talked, in all her beauty, her glorious locks aflame in the morning sun flowing through the windows, her lovely face enlivened by her smile, her womanly charms and immortal grace on display, wrapped in a robe of thinnest silk over the smallclothes she weareth for her Yoga, which fit to her skin like a glove, caressing her supple curves.

Christ! How am I to keep my focus, even now, with such a vision in my poor brain? This is why the Church teaches that women be temptresses, and men be weak; ’tis but the simple truth, shown to us all who have a man’s mind and passions, enflamed and enraptured by a woman’s face and form.

Aye, we stopped our conversation and greeted her politely enough – and then MacManus and I, of one accord, rose and moved to the window whereby we could observe the removal of the robe and her Yoga-dance. We would have stayed there, too, for as long as Meredith’s spell entranced us, but Lynch brought us back. Though perhaps over-snappish he was in doing so: he struck us both on the back of the head, driving our noses into the glass most painfully; when we turned on him, he bared gritted teeth and hissed, “Get your minds on our course, and off of yon gangly trollop! Lucifer’s ballocks, yer pricks are not the compasses we follow now. Let’s find our way to New York, and ye can buy a whore then, if ye have need of such.”

Chastened by a youth – and rightfully so. I am sure the boy has no knowledge of a woman’s embrace, and so has an easier time resisting such wondrous charms as are possessed by Meredith. I did berate him briefly for insulting our good hostess – and my love, though I said naught of that – but I could not fault his naming our foolish distraction away from the vital task ahead. We got back to it then.

And came to naught.

Once Meredith returned from the garden and passed through to her morning bath – and MacManus and I pointedly ignored her passing but for a simple and civil greeting (I already held the image of her dancing in smallclothes burned in my mind; why must I look again with open eyes on her robed form?), we moved to the kitchens, where we prepared our morning refreshment, as has been our wont in our time here. I observed my two men carefully, and saw that my doubts were indeed material.

This was the difficulty. New York lay several hundreds of miles to the north, said Vaughn, and Meredith confirmed. We could not walk the distance. We knew not the management of a beast-wagon. Lynch was for booking passage on a ship, and MacManus opined that we were pirates, and should simply take a ship to sail ourselves – we had seen many a ketch and pinnace that three able seamen could man with little trouble.

But we were not able. My arm ached, my shoulder burned. MacManus could not move without pain, though he endeavored to conceal it; I saw the slowness of his movement, the brief creasing of his brow, the frown on his lips. Lynch was better, the spryness and health of youth serving to speed his recovery, but still he curses when his movements irk his wounded side, and he still cannot move his left shoulder freely – it had been dislocated, his doctor had told him; the arm had been strapped to his trunk for the first several days of our sojourn in the hospital, and has not fully healed. Thus I know we cannot follow MacManus’s advice. We have not the strength to capture nor sail a ship, not even one small enough for three. Lynch’s plan is better – but I fear the Devil’s Lash, should we return to open water. The man has haunted my dreams, and though the ocean is wide, somehow he found us in the midst of it. Perhaps he will find us again, and take us. I do fear this.

‘Twas then that Meredith rejoined us – and though her attire was more modest, still it revealed more than it concealed her ethereal beauty, beauty only increased by the warmth of her smile and her joyful greeting. Surely this woman would be the sun in a cloudy sky, even on a winter’s day in Ireland –

Damn me, and damn my fool’s mind! I cannot keep a straight and simple path even in this log – an hour have I been writing, now, nay, two hours, by the gods! And still I have not recorded what I set out to record. You see? You see the chaos that whirls in my skull? What a desolation is my mind when my heart speaks so loud.

To the point, then. Meredith solved the issue. We laid out our separate plans – I was for purchasing horses, the one land conveyance I know we understand and can manage, though I knew as well that we three had little skill in riding; I hoped to find a wagon of some sort in which we may ride – and she frowned. “Why don’t you get a flight?” she said. “I’d take you myself, but I’m booked up for the next week, and I’m not going anywhere near NYC.”

I misheard her, at first. “A fleet? Is there a fleet headed that way? We could book passage – there may be safety in numbers – ” Lynch and I began to argue this point.

Meredith interrupted us. “No, not a fleet, a flight. You know, a plain flight? What do they call them in Ireland, aren’t they air-plains?”

We looked at her, baffled. I spake first. “A plain in the air? Do you mean plein-air painting? I recall there is a Frenchman who paints thus, methinks.”

Lynch ventured: “Is’t Heaven? The Plains of Elysium, in the air, far above, in those selected – what is’t, Captain?”

“Celestial spheres. Be that your meaning, lass?”

Meredith stared at us as though we were roosters laying eggs. “Come on. You’ve got to know what an air-plain is. You’ve never flown? Haven’t you heard of flying? How did you get here from Ireland, then?”

We exchanged glances. “We sailed on my ship.” I chose not to elaborate further on the journey that had delivered us to these shores. I knew now, though, that this was the cause of the misunderstanding here: Meredith referred to something commonplace in this time, but unimaginable in ours.

These people fly. Through the air, in the sky, miles above Mother Earth, in conveyances like the beast-wagons, but – with – wings.

I cannot conceive of it. But apparently, ’tis the truth. This is what Meredith does, her employment: when she told us she is a pilot, she meant one of those who steer these flying sky-ships; that is what the word means, here and now. I think she has decided that we three are country bumpkins of the most uncivilized sort; I hope that suffices to explain our monumental ignorance. If not, I do not know how to give her the true explanation. She did not ask, any road.

We will have none of this – flight. These America-folk may think themselves immune to the fate of Icarus, but I know better, and my men are not mad enough to seek out such a peril when ’tis not needed, as now. We quickly refused Meredith’s suggestion.

But she gave another. There are large conveyances, like beast-wagons, but far greater and which, she says, ride on rails of iron; they are called “trains.” These trains stay on the ground. We have booked passage on one such which will carry us to New York and to our friends in less than a day’s time. Eight hundred miles! In a day! And yet this transport is not enough for them? They would rather – fly? Fah.

Meredith has made the arrangements for our travel by train. She gave us, as well, an atlas, an entire book of maps more detailed and precise than any I have seen in all my years at sea. She laughed when I exclaimed over its inestimable value, and said it had been hers at school – she has studied! She waved away my protestations, calling it a gift, and a small one at that. Men would have started a war for such a book in my time.

But, one supposes, if you can fly . . . perhaps a map of the land is not so much of a much.

After that, the second book of maps given us was offered with even less ceremony, no more than a hank of cloth given to one who sneezes. We inquired of Meredith as to where we might find shops, so that we could purchase traveling equippage, apparel and supplies; she offered to convey us in her beast-wagon, but then glanced at the clock and cried out that she must go, that she was late; she dashed to a cabinet in the hallway by the front entry, and withdrew a book, called Thomas’s Guide to Charleston, and dropped it in my lap with no more thought than the first princely gift of a book – a book! – of maps. And this Thomas has mapped out every street, every river, every bridge – every alleyway! – in all of this immense city. And Meredith simply – gave it to us. On her way out. After arranging for our passage by train, using the telephone and speaking with someone named Amtrack. Perhaps Anne Track, or Hamtramck, I could not tell.

She is beautiful, beyond the telling of it. She is generous, beyond comprehension. She – flies.

She cannot be mine.

I cannot think, any more.

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Log 45: A Fool Before Beauty

Log

Damn me but I hate to look a fool in front of a woman. Having done so twice this night, I cannot decide if it is worse to play the fool before a woman I respect and admire, or before a woman of great beauty, of surpassing loveliness of face and form, and who, too, I admire, though it is admiration of the most penetrative . . . the most – overwhelming. Underwhelming? – Fah! I know not what I say. These women, this night, have me all in a dither and a twist. I curse myself for a fool when ’tis any soul who thus beholds my folly, or indeed if none espy me but the empty sky above and the fallow earth below.

First there was my idiotic escape attempt, wherein I cleverly led my men, who could barely make their way down a flight of stairs, to a garden enclosed by a high wall, a wall the which I had failed to discern in all my wandering there, despite every promenade around the garden paths that I made with my lady Flanagan. She knew of the wall, even with her ancient eyes: she had seen it and recognized how it would foil our plans – plans she had descried in mere moments, just as quick as she pierced our disguises. ‘Twas she who kindly saved us, this past night – and she who, with kindness all the greater, said naught and laughed not, but simply came to our aid.

And then, but an hour later, we feature the second act of this great farce entitled “The Illimitable Folly of Damnation Kane –An Addlepated Ass In Two Eras.”

We waited in kind Margaret’s chambers until her grand-daughter – noble and loyal, she is, albeit not so much as she is lovely – arrived and informed Lady Flanagan by telephone. Then Margaret brought us to the stairs, where we said our farewells with many thanks and a sweet kiss ‘pon her soft cheek; then made we our slow, clumsy way down. Upon opening the door at the bottom, the building awoke in lights and shrieks as if bogeys and ban-sidhe had arisen from the very walls! Thank the gods that Margaret had forewarned us that opening the door would set off the fire alarm, else we might have frozen in panic and been apprehended once more, and aye, e’en more ignominiously! It was a close thing, in truth, as Margaret’s concept of a “fire alarm” differs from ours by – aye, well, by three centuries, isn’t it? I and Lynch and MacManus all bethought that a man’s voice would cry out the alarm, such cry being taken up then by several others, with perhaps a ringing bell to carry the signal: little did we know that directly o’er our heads, close enough to touch with outstretched hand as we passed through the door, would be a light as bright as any lantern and red as a cock’s comb, spinning and flashing fit to dizzy a man who, naturally, looks up at such a thing when it comes to life just above him; and with this light – by Lucifer, what a braying! ‘Tis loud enough to wake the dead, split the ground above ’em, and shake their bones back to life! My ears do ring still even now. I have heard quieter cannons. Perhaps they seek to frighten the fire out.

Still and all: we did escape the onslaught of noise and light, and made our way to our arranged rendezvous with Margaret’s grand-daughter, the beauteous and dauntless Meredith Vance. She hesitated not at all, despite our assuredly wild-eyed desperation, but helped MacManus and Lynch into her beast-wagon – a much larger breed than those we knew from the Glass Palace and the House of Lopez – as she directed me to put MacManus’s wheeled chair into the stern, through a hatch the which she opened with a wave of her hand, from which was emitted a strange and otherworldly chirrup, somewhat like the chirping of my ivy box within the hospital, but now coming in two notes, lower then higher (though both equally shrill) not unlike a bosun’s whistle. Alas, I could not force the chair into the cargo space thus revealed; it remained too bulky. Until the enchanting Meredith, finished with her own tasks with remarkable alacrity, came to assist the Fool Eternal with his own smaller duty, and showed me how the conveyance folded into itself for ease of storage. I was struck dumb by my own incompetence, though the genteel maid forbore from comment. She simply ushered me to my place, took her own at the wheel, and ferried us to freedom.

And then began our second display of folly.

To start, MacManus could not describe the dock where we had made landing. He directed Lady Meredith to the harbor, presuming there to be but one such, but her immediate rejoinder – to wit, “Which harbor?” – quickly put the lie to his presumption. He endeavored to peer out the ports of the beast-wagon, attempting recognition of our surroundings, but failing: it has been a fortnight and more since we passed this way, and then it was daylight but now ’tis the blackest night without moon nor stars; and Lynch and I, fevered and unconscious at the time, were of no use to him. I thought to ask how we had been conveyed, and learned that Vaughn had solicited from a local citizen the site of the nearest doctorage, and we had been carried there on litters made of boarding pikes and sailcloth. It had been a painful trek for him, and he remembered little more than discomfort and the odd stares from the people of this time, the which we have grown accustomed but not inured to.

But this gave Meredith a clew, for her mind is as quick and sharp as her face is lovely: she made for the nearest pier, in relation to the hospital, assuming that the men would not have trekked far with such a burden and such scrutiny. And on the second attempt, we struck it aright; MacManus shouted out that he knew the place.

Aroused and confident now that we would soon rejoin our shipmates, we stepped out and I offered my deepest and most sincere gratitude to our bewitching savior, while Lynch assisted MacManus in disembarking from the beast-wagon. Lady Meredith – though I quiver to state that she blushed, most fetchingly, as I laid a gentle kiss on her graceful hand – frowned (Still most becoming!) and said, “Are you sure this is where you want me to leave you? There’s nothing here, and it’s the middle of the night.”

I waved away her concern. “Ta, milady, the night is our shipmate, sure. A friend and ally, cloaking us in her shadows that we might find our way unseen by our foes. And we do not intend to abide in this place for more than minutes, I assure you.”

Her smooth white brow furrowed at this, her large and luminous eyes narrowing as her delicate lips made a pretty moue. Then her face cleared, like the dawn sky after a storm. “Oh – is someone else coming to get you?”

I bowed. “Such is our belief and our hope, milady.”

One perfectly shaped brow raised. “But – you’re not sure?”

I shrugged. “What is sure in this life?”

A wry smile crossed her generous mouth, showing the perceptiveness belied and camouflaged by such ethereal beauty. “Tell you what – why don’t I just wait here until your friends arrive, okay? Just in case.”

I shook my head. “Nay, milady, there is no need. I assure you that we are prepared to confront and conquer any obstacle, dare any hazard that may arise in our path, as we have done countless times before.”

Gently rounded white arms, dotted with the faerie-kisses of freckles, crossed over shapely bosom. “Do you all have any other clothes?”

“Nay, milady, but these will suit for as long as needed, to cover identities and protect modesty.”

“Mmm-hm,” seemed to be her response. “Any money?”

“Money can always be found and acquired.”

“Of course. Ever been in Charleston before? Know your way around?”

“I have sailed across the ocean! How difficult could a city be?”

She nodded, her fiery tresses curling becomingly around her angel’s face and smooth white shoulders. “I’ll just wait. Don’t worry, I won’t bother you – I’ll just stay in the car.”

She suited deed to word, the grace in each motion not hidden by the darkness nor lessened by her attire – well-fitted britches of blue broadcloth and a sleeveless sort of tunic of pale green that did not quite cling, and did not quite reveal – but I could live my life in that “not quite” and die a happy man. I shook myself from my reverie when Lynch – rather snappishly, I thought – called my name, and I turned and saw that he had MacManus situated, and was prepared to follow our course from here.

And so we did: MacManus identified the pier where the Grace had docked, we made our way to the very spot, and then I paced while MacManus counted aloud, as Lynch propelled his chair a step behind me. As the directions were simple enough, I could look ahead and discern our approximate destination: ’twas an establishment on the docks, though set back from the actual pier, with a sign naming it Bucky’s Bait Shop and Fishing Tours. Was this Bucky, then, our ally and informant? Had Vaughn left a message with the proprietor? What of Clio, the word left with Lynch?: A momentary survey showed me no sign reading Clio, nor anything similar, nor yet Lynch’s second clew, “setting.”

We completed the count, and found we had moved just past Bucky’s place of commerce; thirty paces to port took us into a shadowed alcove where there was – nothing. Naught but a large container for refuse – I was minded of the Latin Lion I had flogged in a similar alley behind another shop, after tying him to a similar container, back in Florida – and a telephone attached to the wall of Bucky’s Bait Shop.

So this, then, is our intended means of contact. Fine, Master Vaughn. Now what? MacManus is napping in his chair – the escape was most difficult for him, who should still be abed. Good man. Lynch is staring at the telephone and brooding over his useless, meaningless clews, and I record this log with near as much use and meaning to it. We had thought, upon Lynch’s discovery that the number-toggles on the telephone had letters inscribed thereupon, that we could spell out his words to reach Vaughn, but it proved to be of no use. Pressing C-L-I-O-S-E-T-T-I-N-G summoned to the earpiece a woman’s voice, who most frustratingly would not respond to any words of mine, but merely repeated the same cursed phrase over and over: “You must press one before the number you have dialed.” When I gave over my attempts to communicate directly with that ice-throated wench and followed her instructions, she demanded eighty-five scents! Damning her to Hades’ blackest fire-pits served no purpose, of course, though it was somewhat satisfying. Nothing we said would impel her to explain what on Danu’s green and verdant Earth she wanted from us: how in the name of all the saints and angels are we to acquire what she asked? How would we give them to her that demanded them? Frustrated at last, we replaced the handset in its holder, which shut the bitch up, at the least; then we tried, one after the other, C-L-I-O, which brought nothing but a pause, and then that same harridan’s mocking tone informed us that our call could not be completed as dialed; and then S-E-T-T-I-N-G, followed by S-E-T-T-I-N-G-C-L-I-O, both of which brought further demands that we deposit scents. Lynch had the rather esoteric idea that the woman was a witch, and wanted to smell us for some arcane and mysterious reason, but even were I willing to rub the telephone under my arms, the hag demanded eighty-five scents, fifty scents, and ninety-five scents for our three completed pressings. I was certainly not going to find near a hundred strangers and cajole or compel them to press the telephone into their oxters; even were I to do so, I would not then willingly put the same to my face.

And so, frustrated and stymied at the last, I sit at a table set out before Bucky’s Bait Shop, and keep my log. And I feel a consummate fool, for here I am, writing these purposeless words in this worthless log, while Lynch stares at that thrice-damned telephone, and MacManus sleeps, fitfully and clearly in pain but too exhausted to care – and a hundred paces away sits an intelligent and genteel and sublimely beautiful woman, watching me, watching us in all our gloriously asinine folly. I cannot bear to look up for shame – even though, by God Almighty, I hear her approach us now. Curse the gods for making beautiful women to be the bane of we dim-witted men.

Later

We have taken advantage of Lady Meredith’s most kind and generous offer of hospitality – and my dear Margaret’s, as well, for it is her domicile where we bide this night, and seek rest, each of my companions granted a bedchamber to sleep in, with a wonderfully cushioned bench for myself – more than adequate to my needs.

The beauteous Meredith spoke to me of the need to stay off of the city streets, as she put it, as we are likely now wanted men; too, she did not need to do more than glance at MacManus, who is in dire need of decent rest, which he could never find in that chair, outside in the damp night’s humors – the atmosphere in this city is most close and pressing! ‘Tis like breathing through damp wool. Though that would smell better, to my nose. Perhaps that telephone-witch sought relief from this city’s stink, with her absurd demand for scents. Did she want perfumes? Bah! The very thought renews my ire, and chases away the rest I need.

I will think of Meredith, and so to sleep.

28th of August – is it still?

As it ever is, all is brighter with the dawn. I am sure we will find the solution to this mystery, and in the meantime, we are free, we are comforted and secure in the house of my good friend – whose generosity I will endeavor to, but fear I cannot, repay – and I am in love. For milady Meredith Vance, I have now discovered, performs a rite called Yoga.

I cannot even describe it. I slept deeply and well, in smallclothes under a thin but soft blanket as Meredith kindly (and ably) laundered Jackson the guardsman’s uniform along with the clothes MacManus wore; Lynch is slight enough to wear some of the attire in this abode – Meredith claims it was her grandfather’s clothing, but I think it likely her own, and I curse the breadth of my shoulders that I cannot let her dress me, as well, in her own apparel. Any road, I awoke to bright sunlight streaming through the many glass windows that pierced the walls of the room – ’tis a parlor, rather than a bedchamber, and thus far more open; though the couch where I lay my head was as soft and restful as any bed I have known. I rose and went to the windows to greet the day – and there, on the lawn behind the house, the which is surrounded by trees and high hedges, there I saw Meredith, wearing little more than her own silken skin, as she – danced.

She is dressed much as the Enchantress was, when I first spied her in her glory as she swum in her pool; but Meredith’s attire, while similarly fitted to her skin, covers somewhat more. She stands on a small rectangular cloth, a thin carpet, perhaps, on the grass; she faces the rising sun. She stands on one leg and raises the other, as she lifts her hands over her head. She is in profile to me, and I can see that her eyes are closed, her face serene. Her hair is drawn back into a tail which spills down her back like a stream of fire. She lowers her arms and her leg, and then – bends over at the waist and touches her toes. Then she leans far to the left, and then the right, just as a swordsman might when he thrusts, but a hundred times slower, with wondrous grace; and to watch the smooth movement of her limbs, the flexion of her taut sinews under such gleaming porcelain skin – my God, I have never seen anything so lovely. I know not how long I watched her slow, lithe movement, but she never opened her eyes, and I never closed mine. Until she finished with her hands folded before her and her head bowed, as though in prayer; I managed to break myself away from the window, then, before she could catch me in my admiration. She came into the house, now covered in a thin robe, and greeted me where I sat on my couch – with the blanket providing modesty to my smallclothes. I inquired as to her health and activity on this fine morning, and she told me she was well, and had been doing her Yoga.

Gods bless that Yoga, and Meredith Vance, as well.

And may the saints preserve me. For I am a pirate, and a fugitive, and a man lost in time, without resources or prospects, or even a shirt I can name my own. And I am in love.

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