Posts Tagged With: Meredith Vance

Log #75: Deadly Damn Diary

October 3

Dear Diary,

 

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

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

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

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

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

He had blood on his face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Brick.

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

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

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

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

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

That murderer Kane is the wolf.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Categories: Book II, Not-The-Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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 #69: Heavy Men

Warrior Captain’s Log

September the 29th, a Day of Victory

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And what be this thugs?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He does not know Damnation Kane.

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

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

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

Calhoun nodded. “That’s me.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Holy shit!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Log #67: Entanglements

Log

September 26

 

And so my first attempt at unknotting this tangle has gone less well than one would have hoped. In truth, I appear to have tried cutting the Gordian knot with my dull and clumsy tongue, instead of a blade as Alexander used. And in the attempt, it seems, I have made the knot worse. Aye, I have indeed entangled my tongue into that knot.

After we chased the rogue Calhoun away and doctored the hurts he dealt me, I did little over the course of the evening, even as my men and the Grables kept Dame Margaret company, but sit on the porch and stare at the ring I had taken from that split-tongued scupperlout. I stared at the ring, and pictured the similar circlet of silver on Meredith’s finger, and I waited, impatient for her return.

She came at last near six bells of the first watch, a mere hour before midnight. I had placed myself in the shadows, lest she use another entry to the house and avoid me thus, as she had done when last I saw her. The subtlety was successful: she came to the porch from her beast-wagon, her gaze on the van, watching carefully for me, and I let her mount the steps before I sprang my ambuscade. She moved slowly, seeming exhausted, worn thin.

Perfect, thought I. Easy prey.

I stood and strode into the light, giving her a start – perhaps more than a start, as she voiced a cry nigh unto a scream, and fell back against the railing, the presence of which was her sole savior from a tumble off the porch. She saw it was I and closed her eyes, breathing deep, hand on her chest, presumably to slow her racing heart. If she hath a beating heart at all, that is.

“I met a man today,” I told her, without preamble. I held out my hand with the ring, still blood-marked, on my open palm. “He wore this.”

She frowned at it, looking to her own ring, set on the middle finger of her left hand. “It looks like mine.”

The flood of ire that had been held back heretofore by my will broke the dam, then, and I closed my hand and then flung the ring against the side of the house, where it struck with a crack like a whip. “Aye!” I shouted at her. “It looks like yours because ‘tis the mate of yours! Because you, like that ring, have a mate!”

She pulled her head back, frowning at me, her face as pale as milk. “What are you talking about?”

I slapped the pillar beside me so I would not strike her – because in truth I wished to strike her, aye. “Ye know right well! You – are – betrothed!”

Her eyes went wide as saucers. “I’m – what?”

I did shake my fists at her then, though I did not threaten her. “Betrothed, damn ye! That ring shows that ye be claimed as another man’s property! And yet ye cozened with me while ye wore it!”

Meredith’s fists went to her hips and now she thrust her face forward, her teeth bared as though she would snap at me, her pale cheeks now flushing bright red. “Excuse me? I am no one’s goddamn property! And what did you say – cozened with you? How dare you?”

I stepped forward to meet her, the two of us eye to eye, near nose to nose as we shouted and cursed one another. “Aye, cozened me, like a strumpet! Trying to turn your betrothed into a cuckold, and have me put the horns on him!” I had to turn away then, for I will never strike a woman. No matter how I am provoked.

“You son of a bitch –” she spat out at me, but I o’ershouted her. “Why? Tell me why ye did it, why ye did not tell me ye were promised and bound to another!”

She stamped her foot. “I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about, but I’m not fucking bound to anyone, I have never seen that ring, and who the fuck are you to attack me like this?”

I had to laugh at that, a bitter chuckle without a scrap of mirth: I felt as though I might never feel mirth again in this life. “Ah, lass, when ye play with a man, lie to a man, betray a man, ye give him some right to demand satisfaction of ye, as the injured party.”

She had naught to say to that, her mouth flapping like a hooked fish’s.

I knew I had her, then, caught in her own web of deceit. I held up a hand. “Nay, ye need not speak; I know just what ye’d say. Your man was away, perhaps ye had doubts that ye could keep him to home, and so ye played your feminine wiles, played the harlot, to test your power over men. Over me. Ye meant no harm by it, it perhaps went further than ye intended it to go, and then ye could not bring yourself to speak of it, did not want to admit ye’d betrayed your lord and master.”

I had meant to go on, to say that I understood and I forgave her her flirting, which I know is simply part of a woman’s nature. But that was when she hit me.

Hit me right in the jaw, she did – precisely where her brute of a lover had struck me earlier, and, it seemed to me, she hit me harder. Sure and it hurt more. And then she kicked me! Truly those two are a match for each other, aye. I’m well out of it.

I am.

As I reeled, catching myself on the porch railing, Meredith grabbed my shirt in a grip far stronger than I’d have expected from a lass. She pressed her face close to mine, and all I could see was her wide green eyes, and the fires that roared behind them.

“Now you shut the fuck up, and you listen to me, you piece of shit. I have no master. Nobody fucking owns me. Nobody. You do not have the right to question me, or to judge me, no matter what I choose to do: because I choose. Not you.” She swallowed – she had sprayed me with spittle in her fury – and then drew back. “And I choose to remove you from my life. I choose to never fucking see you again.”

Then she slapped me. In the same eye that the rogue had cut earlier. Again, I reeled under the pain, as Meredith let go of her hold on my shirt, walked back down the steps, and drove off in her beast-wagon. I watched her go with blood running into my eye, the cut opened anew by her ring.

I am suddenly very tired.

Perhaps I do not understand this. There is so much else that is strange, here; perhaps I am wrong in this instance as I have been before, as when I marooned Morty the shopkeep; what I had hoped would keep him from causing trouble for us ere we departed led to greater trouble than I would have found had I been seeking it. Too, my involvement with the Latin Lions led to suffering for the Family Lopez, as well as for myself and my crew; and though they did not weigh heavily on my conscience, being the pack of scalawags they had been, still there had been much blood spilled, almost entirely by myself and my men. Too much blood. I have thought, since then, that less mayhem could have ensued had I acted elsewise than I did.

Perhaps I misunderstand the meaning of two rings of one pattern, worn on the hands of a man and a woman. Perhaps the trouble was the term “betrothed;” in truth I am often incapable of making myself understood to these people of this world. Perhaps that was the trouble.

Perhaps the trouble is merely that I tried to talk about honor to a woman. My mother understands honor; I have known a few other women who do, as well. None since we came to this time. Well – Dame Margaret does, it seems. But surely not her granddaughter.

I have recorded all of this in detail so that I may think it over again, and see if I have gone wrong, and if so, where.

Bah. Women.

 

Log

27th of September in the year 2011

Well, and if I had thought that all I would have to bear was the pain suffered from Meredith’s betrayal and from the twin thrashings she and her man inflicted – sure and this would be a fine honeymoon, would it not? “Come beat the heartsick Irishman, man and wife together for a single price!” – I would have been wrong. There was far more suffering to come.

And – perhaps – a remedy to all ills.

It began this morn with Lynch. I have not been easy with him since he insulted me at the inn, when I would not interfere in the kerfuffle between the man and his woman in the adjacent room and he implied that I am no good man. Though I did argue with him when he first applied that description to me, nonetheless it did sting when he seemed to withdraw it. I have felt his continued disapprobation directed towards my deeds and decisions here in Charleston, though he has not seen fit to voice an objection.

Until this morn.

As we broke our fast, I grumbling as I chewed of the pain in my twice-struck jaw, Lynch dropped his spoon in his bowl with a clatter (Though I and the other men prefer the local porridge, called by Dame Margaret “grits,” and the Grables are fond of eggs atop toasted bread, Lynch opts for a strange form of clotted cream called yogurt, with fruit mixed in. Seems a cold, clammy sort of meal.) after I had made some remark or other about seeking out Meredith and giving her and her shrewishness a thorough tongue-lashing. He looked at me with fiery eyes and asked, “What are you doing?”

I noticed, but did not comment on, how he left off the Captain he usually entitles me. I met his glare, somewhat belligerent from the ache in my jaw and brow, and asked, “What do ye mean, boy?”

He stood from his chair. “What are you doing here, Captain?” Since I said “boy” instead of “lad,” my title received a thick tarring of sarcasm. He went on. “Why are ye acting like some dandified noble grousing on insults to his honor? Or to a lady’s honor?”

I tried to interject, but now the boy had the bit between his teeth, and he ran on. “Are ye our captain, our pirate captain, or are ye some cock-o-the-walk popinjay who will challenge any man to a duel who looks at him cross-wise?”

I slapped the table. “Ye heard what that pig said to me! What would you have me do? Should I not defend my lady’s honor when her good name must bear such dire insult?”

He threw his hands in the air. “She’s not your lady, Captain! That’s what that rogue said to ye, and I heard it well!” He leaned on his fists on the table. “I heard what ye said to the lady Meredith last night, as well, and ye did not seem so very concerned with sparing her insult.”

I came out of my chair, turning my back on him. “Bah – what do you know of matters between men and women, ye wee stripling!” But even while I said this, I did not – I could not – defend what I had spake to Meredith Vance. Recalling it, and thinking of that ballyhoo being overheard by other ears, I felt shame.

I was soon to feel more.

But I went on. “I recall ye saying to me, not two days gone, that a good man should do more. So ye’d have me defend a woman I know not, but ignore when a lout ill-uses our hostess here? Have ye no honor yourself, boy?”

Lynch recoiled as though I had struck him. Then he nodded. “So. Ye’d have me – us – think ye were defending Meredith Vance’s honor. And not fighting like a jealous stallion over another who threatened to take your mare.”

I scoffed and said, “Aye! ‘Tis true. I’d defend any lady’s honor in similar distress.”

His eyes narrowed. “Would you defend my honor, then?” I blinked at this, and he turned red in the face. Then he flipped his hand to dismiss the slip and said, “Would ye defend the honor of your crew, of your shipmates?”

‘Twas a deep blow, and I drew up proudly and said, “Aye! I would!”

His eyes glittered like a viper’s as he struck. “Then why haven’t you? Our crew – your men – are held captive! Along with your ship! We have not one bit of knowledge of how they fare, nor if they even live! And here you sit, carping over your – your jealous spat?”

I admit I spluttered at this, but I rallied quickly. “Nay! Nay, I seek only – Meredith is a pilot! She can fly us to the Grace and the men!” I looked to the others for support of this, our plan all along, the goal I had been working towards.

Hadn’t I?

They would not meet my gaze.

Lynch would. “Perhaps ye have not noticed, Captain;” now I wished he would stop calling me that, so contemptuous did he sound; “perhaps your gaze has been elsewhere, but I have seen those same flying ships overhead every day! There be hundreds of them, not just one, not just Lady Meredith’s! While we sit here in this house and you get in lover’s brawls, we could be finding another pilot, another flying ship! We could be booking passage on one, as she suggested we do to go north!”

I was in full retreat now. “We – we have not the funds.”

He slapped the table. I jumped. “Damn it, man, are ye not a pirate? If we have not wealth, we take it! If we cannot do that, we could bargain, trade our service for passage! If ye would only pull your head out of your arse!”

He stormed from the room.

Kelly and Shane and the Grables followed in silence. None had a word to say to me, kind or otherwise.

I fell back into my chair and stared at – nothing. At my own folly, writ large now that Lynch had torn the scales from my eyes and showed it to me. Showed me myself.

I think now that the trouble we have faced did not spring from a woman. I think it sprang from me.

Categories: Book II, Captain's Log | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Log #66: Complications

Captain’s Log

September 26th

 

The situation has grown complicated.

It well may be that these complications began with my first action upon our arrival here. Had I, rather than attempting to woo my lady Meredith Vance (with the ultimate object being the same, namely to win her assistance with our effort to reach Bermuda and win back the Grace; I grant myself that much consideration, holding fast to the belief that this is my true aim, my first cause), simply approached her and asked for her aid, then well might she have granted it; then in the course of making ready to weigh anchor and cruise to Bermuda, I might have found an opportunity to pursue my other object, the winning of Meredith Vance’s heart. But my impatience and my desire won me over, and now, perhaps, I have lost – all.

As a consequence of my lapse, Dame Margaret has striven to show us that her hospitality and gentility are beyond reproach; for my part, I have striven to assure her that such qualities were never in doubt. Still she strives, however: she has fed us, entertained us, granted a chamber to the Grables and a second to my three men, so that our party can refresh and recreate themselves after our journey.

As for my accommodation, Dame Margaret took me aside as she showed the men to their rooms. “Mister Kane,” quoth she – alas that I, who had been Nate to her goodness, was now held off as Mister Kane! – “as it seems that there is some personal connection between you and my granddaughter, of course I cannot ask you to stay beneath my roof alongside her. I cannot risk scandal.” Then she stabbed me with a look. “And no matter how discreet we might think we all are, I will not risk any hallway-creeping in the middle of the night – something I think very likely, to be frank, knowing my granddaughter as I do, and being somewhat acquainted with charming rogues like yourself.”

I could not but duck my head, having earned all of her disapprobation and caution. “Of course, my lady. I trust honor will be sufficiently preserved if I make my bed in our wagon this eve.”

Dame Margaret shook her head. “That is precisely the trouble, Mister Kane. You trust that honor will be sufficiently preserved? Honor must be cherished. Pursued, with a full and eager heart. Either honor is held above all else, or it is dragged through the mud. You work hard to find what you can get away with while still seeming honorable, as my granddaughter does, but honor is not preserved simply by appearances. If no one knows of one‘s dishonorable acts, that does not make one honorable.”

Ye gods and devils, I wished to sink beneath the ground, then, so that my ragged, battered cadaver could be as low as my soul felt. Dame Margaret saw this in me, and granted me the mercy of saying thus: “The wagon will be fine, Mister Kane. Please do enjoy the evening.” Then she rested a hand lightly on my arm, signifying that I was not so loathsome that she could not abide my presence. ‘Twas a comfort.

Thus did I spend that evening doing my uttermost to show honor to my hostess and my men. I was the soul of civility, and, I think, a pleasant companion to the room. I did not brood on future struggles, nor did I pine for Meredith; I made merry with those present, all of whom are close to my heart – even the Grables, who have grown to be a valued part of our wandering crew. I did make an especial effort to be good to my friend Balthazar Lynch, as the lad has lost his good opinion of me – or rather, I lost it, when I failed to assist the maid in the next room at the inn. I did win a true smile from him by the evening’s close, the which I consider a victory.

But regardless of my standing and reputation among those closest to me, the true object of our visit to this place was not achieved, for Lady Meredith did not return to join our gathering. Only after all were abed did I, in my lonely monk’s cell in the beast-wagon, hear the sound of her beast-wagon’s growl approaching Dame Margaret’s demesne. I emerged from the van, but mindful of Dame Margaret’s words regarding honor and honor’s loss, I did not approach Meredith. She emerged from her beast-wagon, looking bedraggled and forlorn; she stopped suddenly, having looked up and seen myself. I raised a hand in greeting, and she did likewise; but then she ducked her head and hurried indoors without another glance. I could do naught but watch her go, and then return to my wagon-cell to sleep.

I was determined to find a moment to speak with her with the break of day, but I was awakened from my slumber by the rumble of her beast-wagon departing ere the sun could strike through the windows of the van.

I do not know how severely I have scuttled this endeavor, but I fear I may have sunk this ship entirely. Perhaps we should swim to Bermuda.

For the travails we face, the complications I have raveled into this skein, do not stop with Lady Meredith and Dame Margaret. No, I seem to attract troubles to me as a lodestone draws iron. Though of course, this trouble was drawn to my Lady Meredith, and I simply stood between it and her.

I must say that I stood stout, immovable, impassable. At least I may say that much.

We were on the porch close to the road, my men seated at their ease, I pacing as I fretted over Lady Meredith and her refusal to meet with me. My men were making mock of me, which I had not the time to rail against for the sake of dignity or propriety, nor the heart to gibe back at them. I could merely pace and fret, fret and pace.

At last, Shane MacManus said, “Captain, if this road will not take us where we must go, might be we should seek another way.”

Lynch pounded a fist on the porch’s rail and said, “Aye!”

I shook my head. “Nay. We’ve no need of that. Meredith and I are bound. She will give me what I need from her.”

Lynch jutted his chin out at me. “Captain, I –”

I cut him off. “Meredith will give it to me!”

At that very moment, a new voice, speaking in the slow accents of this place – like a mixture of English and French, it seems to me – spoke from the path behind me. “Now I know you boys aint talkin’ ‘bout my girl like that.”

I spun about and faced the interloper. He was a tall, broad-shouldered square-jawed ruffian, with a sanguine face and thews bulging like a stonecutter’s. He wore a sneer on his lip of the sort that one instantly wished to knock off of the face that carried it. I stared down at him from the porch, and he met me glare for glare.

“I do not know you,” I said at last. “What business have ye with this House?”

He snorted and raised his brows. “My business? My business is findin’ out your damn business. Who the hell are you, and what are you doin’ on my girl’s property?

I frowned at him, feeling an unwelcome tightening in my gut. “Your girl?”

He nodded slowly, as if speaking to an imbecile. “Yeah, boy, my girl. Meredith. Meredith Vance. Who I do hope is not the one you were sayin’ is gone give it to you. ‘Cause my girl don’t give nothin’ to nobody ‘cept for me.” Then he grinned the most vile, contemptible grin I think I have ever seen on another man. “And it’s too damn bad for the rest o’ ye’all, ‘cause aint nobody give it as good as my Merry do. That girl is a red-hot fireball in the sack, that’s for damn sure.”

Of course there was but one response to this: I drew my wheel-gun and took aim on that filthy grinning mouth of his. “You lie,” I proclaimed. My men had come to their feet, and Lynch did say warningly, “Captain,” as I am sure he was wary of the dangers in disturbing the peace, and in spilling blood on Dame Margaret’s flagstones; not least was the likelihood that someone nearby would summon la policia. But none of that had any import: I could not allow this smear on Meredith’s honor. Not from the noblest man in Charleston; never from this cur.

The cur had courage. He did not blink in the face of my armament – which is quite contrary to what I have seen on these shores. He met my gaze levelly, and said, “You callin’ me a liar?”

“Aye,” I rejoined without pause. “And a bilge-tongued dog not fit to wash the feet of Meredith Vance. Who, I’ve no doubt, has never set eyes on you, you whom she has never mentioned to me.”

He shook his head. “Aint nobody callin’ Brick Calhoun a liar and walkin’ away with all of his teeth. Come put that pea shooter down so’s I can knock your fuckin’ teeth down your throat.”

I had to smile at that. “I am not in the habit of offering terms to liars and slanderers. You will turn and walk quickly off of this property, or,” and I lowered my aim to his knee joint, “you will never walk quickly again in this life.”

His face screwed up into an ugly red-flushed snarl. He spat on the ground between us, and then turned and began to walk away – slowly. He kept his glare on me every moment, over his shoulder as he sidled away. I came down to the flagstones to encourage his departure. He raised a hand and pointed at me. “We’ll fuckin see ‘bout this, you cocksucker. Soon’s I talk to Merry, we gone see who’s got bidness on this p’operty. And ‘bout who’s a fuckin’ liar.”

I strode towards him. He stopped and turned to face me square. “Ye’ll not bloody speak to Meredith, ye goat-swivin’ bastard!” I admit that in my rage, my civil tongue abandoned me, and I reverted back to the common sailor I be at heart.

His eyes bulged. “That aint fuckin’ up to you, is it, you pussy? You coward! Can’t even face me ‘thout your fuckin’ gun!”

“It falls to me to defend her from pig-faced shite-buckets like you!”

“You aint defendin’ her from me, fuck-stick, I’m her man! She’s wearin’ my ring!” He lifted his hand, waggled his fingers at me. I was so startled by this claim that I looked: and indeed, he wore a ring that was the mate of one I had seen often on the hand of my Meredith.

Perhaps she is not my Meredith.

But that was a thought for cooler blood to consider; in the moment, I could not stand any more. “Lynch!” I called, and as he came to the top step behind me, I tossed him my wheel-gun and said “Stay back!” I turned back, and in the same motion, struck that dull-eyed pustule square in his gob.

Then was battle joined. He tried to grab me – he was the taller and of greater bulk, and would likely have done me some harm: if he could catch me. But I was the quicker, and I bent under his groping ape-arms and struck three more swift blows to his middle and ribs. Three was one too many: I gave him time to strike, and his great fist mashed into my jaw like an oaken gaff swinging in a gale. Made me see stars, he did. A second blow grazed my eye, split the skin of my brow; had he hit square, I’d have been flat. But instead, I stayed on my feet and withdrew out of his reach. He kicked me then, the base coward, and stole my balance; I fell back and he attempted to stomp on me, but I rolled out of the way and started to come to my feet. He closed swifter than I had expected, though, and caught me first with a kick and then with a two-fisted overhand blow across my back. ‘Twas a sore blow, and it threw me down to the earth.

But then he stepped astride me and grabbed at my hair, likely meaning to drive my face into the ground, but I was able to turn over, like an eel – and since we were, it seemed, kicking in this kerfuffle, and his groin was right above me, well.

He fell back, clutching himself, his face even redder. I rose to my feet, took his shirt in hand, and then dealt him my mightiest blow, and then another, and then still another: at the third he fell back, stunned. When I stepped forward to strike once more, he held up his hands in surrender.

I clutched at his right hand and twisted the ring off his finger, the one that was the mate of Meredith’s ring. He bawled, as strips of skin came off with the band; I was none too gentle, which was as he deserved. Speaking slush-mouthed, he grunted out, “Fuck your mother, you asshole.”

I drew back to strike once more – but a hand caught my arm. I spun about to look at who had stymied my revenge and my triumph, and there were my men, come down from the porch to surround me. ‘Twas Kelly who held me, and he shook his head; I cursed and stomped away. Behind me I heard Shane say, “Time to be gone, boyo. And ye’ll not be wantin’ to come back, aye?”

I heard the pig snort and spit. But I glanced back and saw him rise to his feet and limp away. Shane followed close behind until he had gone, and then we adjourned inside the house to address my hurts.

The men didn’t speak to me beyond joining me in cursing the filthy bastard. But the ring I held, taken from him, brought silence to us all. They didn’t need to say aught. I knew what was in their minds, aye; it was in mine as well.

What if he spoke truth? What if it was Meredith who lied, who had played me false, tried to make me cuckold her betrothed?

If so, what were we to do? How would we reach Bermuda and the Grace?

What could I do? How could I ever regain my honor? Or my heart?

So do I keep this log as I wait for Meredith to return. I am attempting to think of what I should say to her.

I know not.

I do not know.

The situation has grown complicated. And I do not know how to unravel this knot.

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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 #63: Comfort

Log

September 24

 

Our road, in the event, is indeed straight; I know not, yet, if it be true. For certain sure, it is long. Yet our beast-wagon is swift as an arrow’s flight: in this one day now passed, we have traveled as far as we did over a full ten days on our journey northwards, even with the wagon and team. We are once more near Baltimore, Grable has said; a full 300 miles we have traveled this day.

I have sat, stiff and still, all this day, in the rear of the beast-wagon, where cargo would be stored. It is the wagon’s hold: an enclosed space lacking in amenities or comforts, of any kind, apart from a sort of covering for the deck, which the Grables call “carpet,” though it does not resemble cloth; it is more like a badly-tanned hide of some foul gray-furred beast. But atop a cushion atop a blanket atop that, some comfort may be found, and the Rosenbergs and the Grables did both donate blankets and cushions to us for this journey. There is little comfort for me, however, and not simply because I share this space with three other men: the hold of the wagon is capacious enough to allow each of us room to sit at ease, if not enough to lie down and sleep. No, the trouble is in my mind and my soul: I cannot find ease or respite from my thoughts, nor my fears. I try not to see this lightless boxed space as a coffin, but I do feel as immobile as a corpse. As breathless. But I have all the fears of a man who has not yet passed beyond the veil.

What if Meredith should say me Nay?

Perhaps I should have sailed in the Emperor Grable, offering this clanking, stinking thing as surety and recompense. Though this travel is faster than the ship would be.

What if Kelly heard wrongly? Or the Rosenbergs did misinterpret what Kelly did hear? Surely “The Triangle” could refer to nigh any locale; what place does not have triangles somewhere about?

What if Hobbes and the Shadowman cannot sail  my ship?

Or if they murder all my men?

What if –

A plague on my thoughts. They have strained me nigh to breaking.

***

We have stopped for the night at a place called the Comfort Inn. Though I do not find much here in the way of comfort; but then I have dined and drunk at a tavern called The King’s Glory, where on a good night they would turn the sawdust floor so the vomit was on the bottom, so perhaps I should not expect too much from this establishment.

We have taken two rooms, there being, it seems, no common room where men on a journey may lie on a bench by the fire for mere pennies, or even at the sufferance of a kind innkeep. But two rooms did suffice to house the six of us: one had two narrow beds, where the Grables shall rest; generous, to give them a private room at our expense, but it had been George begging fatigue of the road that did call for the stop, and we do want him alert and steady on the helm for the morrow. Too, I understand his fatigue: though we pass the miles more quickly, still there is no way not to feel them. And we do, aye, indeed we do. Though far easier than shank’s mare, still I can feel every mile in my heart. In my bones.

The second room boasts a single larger bed, and a couch that would suffice for a small man, or a boneless one. Or a sailor, inured by sea voyages to sleeping in a berth smaller than a child’s bed, or a-swing in a hammock on rolling seas. Kelly had the most need for comfort and rest, for his hurts, and so the bed was his and mine. Aye, I could have bent myself to the couch; I slept in a sailor’s berth for many a year. But aboard my Grace, I grew accustomed to my cabin and the true bed therein, and so I find I have lost the habit of sleeping compacted into myself, my knees in my belly or my arms crushed ‘gainst my ribs. And the men call me Captain, still; I must needs keep my dignity so they might keep their pride in their loyal service. Had it been other than Kelly wounded, we might have slept three abreast, but as it is, MacManus and Lynch had to choose ‘twixt couch and floor. The problem was ably managed when Lynch seized two of the assortment of pillows (The bed was furnished with cushions enow for any noblewoman, howsoever delicate of flesh and shrewish of complaint she be) and took it upon himself to sleep in the beast-wagon, and there to keep a watch.

But enough: the log is kept. I must sleep.

***

I cannot sleep.

Kelly snores, is the bother, and I cannot prod him to roll over as he is wounded in my service.

Nay, that is not the bother. If it were I would take myself to the Grables’ room and sleep on their floor. It is still my soul that twists and strains at me, that disturbs my respite. They are the same thoughts as before, and no better for having aged some hours.

I cannot simply lie here. Lynch. I will speak to Lynch.

 

 

September 25

‘Tis morning now. I have slept, not overlong, but well. Quite well. Thanks to my man – my friend, Balthazar. He has gone to the room to use the head and the washtub, so I am alone in the beast-wagon. And I am at ease.

I roused him last night at my soul’s deepest ebb; he was soundly asleep when I rapped on the door and called his name, but still he opened the hatch instantly, rubbing sleep from his eyes and asking if there were danger.

“Only that I will lose my mind,” I said, climbing into the hold and seating myself cross-legged on the carpet-hide.

He shook his head and smiled. “Ye’ll not lose your mind, Cap’n. Ye’ve the strongest mind of any man I have ever known. No puzzle will overcome you.”

“I wish I had your faith,” said I.

“Ye may take mine from me, and anything else ye wish to have of me,” he said. The boy’s loyalty and good heart touched me, and I placed my hand atop his; he shuddered and then put his other hand over mine, and the touch gave me comfort, at last.

Then I unburdened my mind to him. I should not have; he is my man, one of my crew, and so should not have to bear his captain’s worryings. But my first mate was not here, nor my good friend Llewellyn Vaughn; and this youth and I have grown closer through these past months’ tribulations. I have come to rely upon him, and he has never failed me. Nor did he this night; even if my troubles were prodigious, still he bore up under them and gave me his strength.

“Are we on the correct path?” I fretted. “Aye, Captain,” said he, “this be the swiftest course to our lady Grace. I know it chafes you to travel so, and aye it does me, but speed is our weapon.” “But what if we are aimed in the wrong direction? What if Kelly misheard their speech?” He grinned at that; I could see his straight, white teeth in the light of the moon and stars above. “Kelly never mishears. ‘Tis a part of him, like the voices. I have heard him speak over whole conversations without a single slip.”

Aye, of course; I had forgotten that. This is why a companion is a true necessity: when one’s mind is too filled with ballast and bilge to sail well, a companion can remind one of what one forgets. I continued to bail my troubles into the lad. “What of the Rosenbergs’ Triangle? If they have named us the wrong destination?”

He nodded at that. Here is the true quality of Balthazar Lynch: he did not merely flatter me and assure me that all was well simply because it was I who steered the course. Aye – he did flatter me, in truth, but then he acknowledged the perils we faced, so I would not need to feel a fool for worrying over them. “Aye, that may be. But they are of this time, and he a sailor; I think it best we follow their course. If it be false, we will see where we be, and strike out again.” I felt the pressure of his hands on mine. “We will get her back, Nate. The Grace is your lady, your ship. I think nothing can keep you from her.”

I hesitated then, loath to reveal my deepest and most painful canker of doubt. But I did. Because I have come to rely on him. “What if Meredith refuses me?”

He bowed his head. Then he lifted it again and whispered, “No woman could refuse you. That sl- She. She will surely not.” He chuckled then. “’Tis – ‘twould be the curse of loving you, that a woman would have so many rivals for your affection.” He tilted his head and regarded me, and I saw his large, dark eyes reflecting the moon’s light. “Though I know that your loyal heart, once given, would always stand true. ‘Tis too good a heart to be false.”

I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder to thank him for the compliment – what an honest lad he is! What man would say such tender things to another man? – and then I said that we should go to sleep, if he wouldn’t mind sharing the wagon’s hold with his captain. He said, “I’d share any bunk with ye,” and then coughed and moved his blankets to the side, leaving a space for me beside him. I stretched out, stealing a blanket and a pillow from him, and putting my back against his for warmth and the simple comfort of touch.

Before I drifted off, I did ask him one last query. “In New York you called me a good man.”

“Aye,” he said, his back to mine. “And a pirate.”

“Aye. But that’s the rub: I am a pirate. I pillage and plunder, rob and murder. I am no good man.”

“Ye do those things, aye,” he said. “But not by chance. Ye do not prey on all weaker than ye. Ye be an Irishman: and, though I would not insult your blessed mother, ye be a fatherless Irishman.”

I had to chuckle at that. But then, he did not know. Most of my men did not, as I never spoke of it. “No. I have a father.”

He shifted, lifting his head to look at me. “Aye?” he asked, startlement in his voice and manner.

I nodded, though I did not look straight at him. “Aye. My mother was at Drogheda. My father – my father is an Englishman.”

He stared down at me. “She were raped?”

I could only nod; even the thought of it clenched my jaw and made my blood burn.

He lay back down. “Bless Lady Maeve for her strength.”

I could have embraced him then; had he been a woman, I would have kissed him for his kindness and compassion. I did not speak of this to my crew first because I did not want my men to mistrust my half-English blood – though the fact of my bastardy, the which my men assumed anyway, simply put me level with the main of them – but far more because I would not have my salty tars think less of my mother. The injustice of it has ever torn at me: had she been a harlot, the rough men I sailed with would think no less of her; but as she was raped, they would think her both a fallen woman and a weakling, because they would think that she surrendered.

Nothing could be less true: ‘tis no shame that a young girl – but seventeen she was, at Drogheda – could not fight off a man of Lord Blackwell’s strength and years soldiering. Her strength shows in that she did not hurl herself off a cliff afterwards. She stood straight in the face of unjust judgments of her characters and bore – me. Lynch named me the strongest will he knows; but I am not. She is.

And I could bless him for seeing it so. But I only said, “Aye.”

After a moment he went on. “For an Irishman in our time, the only way to live is to surrender and be enslaved – or to fight. You fight. You rob and plunder, aye – but only the English.”

I had to object. “We have taken many an Irishman’s ship, and ye know it.”

“Aye,” he rejoined, “but they are the Irishmen who have surrendered. The only way an Irishman could be a merchant and fill a ship with wealth is if he bent knee and neck to the English, and became their creature. He might as well be English.”

I had to agree. “But I have struck at others. On these shores and at home. And I have murdered.”

“Aye, Nate – I’ve murdered with ye. Think ye the only one whose conscience twinges?”

Well, it was twinging now at his words, but I did not speak.

He went on. “Ye do not do anything unless it is in service of those who have your loyalty. Your family, your clan, your country – and your crew. Not ever for yourself. All the plunder ye’ve taken in your years on the seas, and how much have ye kept for yourself? Where are your chests of gold, your jeweled trinkets? Where is your pirate’s hoard, Captain Kane?”

It was the truth: I kept little of what I took. It went to my ship, or my men, or back to the people at home. “I do not always kill for gold,” I said.

Why do we always fight the hardest when others try to see the good in us? I would never argue if someone spoke kindnesses of my mother or my companions – or my ship. But say them of me, and I will deny and rebuff and scoff all the hours of the day and night. Is it humility? Are all men simply fools?

But this is why we need true friends, strong friends, friends who will stand up under such circumstances and say, Nay.

“Nay,” said my friend Balthazar. “Ye do not always kill for gold. Ye kill for justice, betimes. And aye, ye have a temper to ye, so that when ye do strike out, ye may do greater harm than would another man. But even in a temper, ye choose your targets well. Ye fight justly, and wi’ honor, and for honor. That is why ye have the loyalty and the – love – of your men. Of – of me.”

He fell silent. I did not mention the mutiny; men do slip, sometimes. If he could forgive me my wrath, then I could forgive me men their doubts and fears and anger that made them steal my ship. At the least, I could forgive those who returned and swore fealty to me. And though a small voice still wanted to deny what he said, to search in my past for some misdeed that would disprove his words, I silenced it. I chose to accept what he said as the truth. It did bring me comfort, at last.

“Ah, man,” I said to him, “I hope ye know that ye have my loyalty as well. And my love.”

I felt a shudder go through him, his back against mine. “Aye,” he said, in a muffled voice.

Then we fell asleep.

Categories: Book II, 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.

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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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