Posts Tagged With: pawn shop

Log 33: Pain Shop

Captain’s Log 

Date: 25th of July, 2011

Location: Redoubt at the Glass Palace

Conditions: Complicated.

A man might wonder, were he to come across my tale at a bookseller’s someday – gods, do they still have booksellers? – or hear my exploits recounted in a tavern over mugs of ale: whyever did I become a pirate? I may flatter myself that I am a man of parts, of some good education, of courage and determination: what turned me into a rover of the infinite seas?

There are many reasons, as there are with any single moment in a man’s life: as when one comes to a crossroads and must needs take one fateful and decisive step, there were innumerable steps before, and every one a necessary predecessor to the one moment we isolate and ask, “Why that step?” But there are indeed some steps, some causes, that I can identify as weighty in the scales of my life’s measuring.

Any man who turns pirate must love the sea, and I do. The wind and waves, the graceful motion of a ship that can turn in any direction, course to any horizon and beyond, that freedom and beauty, the bright sky above and dark depths below, they wait behind my eyes when I sleep, and they bring me out to greet the morn again. Too, a gentleman of fortune like myself must have some love of gold, an appreciation for the finer things in life, or joy wrought simply from the clink and shine itself; and aye, I have a touch of that curse of Midas. Though for myself, as for some of my crew – Ian O’Gallows be one such, and young Balthazar Lynch – it is more than love of gold: we have a thirst for adventure, and our true reward is glory, a name which echoes and resounds through the ages and strikes fear, or admiration, or – well, something. But this, too, is a kind of greed.

Ere a man joins this Brotherhood of the Coast, he must have a reason in his heart to do violence, to spill blood and still breath. Llewellyn Vaughn lacks this, which is why he sails with us but is not of us. Some, like Ned Burke, are cruel, and relish the infliction of pain on those weaker than themselves; some, like Kelly or MacManus, have a gift for mayhem such that it clears away all other paths in life: they would march as soldiers did they not sail as pirates. Many of us, including myself, have a burning anger in us, a desire for revenge that drives us to draw sword and pull trigger – or a temper hot enough and quick enough to make a man an enemy with but one irksome encounter. Aye, I have that, in truth.

But the one quality that every man jack of us carries, that every corsair shares, is this: impatience. A man who loves the sea can always find a place on it that suits him, if he but takes the time to cast about for a good berth on a good ship. Gold can be earned thus too: many a man’s fortunes have come from simple trading and transport across the waves. And any score that needs settling can be done over the course of years and lifetimes without danger; or even better, it can be forgotten.

But damn me, I cannot wait. I have no gift for it. And so, ’tis a pirate’s life for me.

And because I be a pirate, and have a lust for gold, and for adventure, and a hand ready to become a fist when my blood is high, and because I cannot bide my time, I have made our lives – passing convoluted. Alas, ’tis my nature.

When we sailed from Key Largo with the dawn, we sailed without Llewellyn Vaughn. I confess that in the excitement of the raid on the people of the noise-wagon, I had forgotten that Vaughn was not to accompany us, and he, caught up in the brouhaha as well, did not think to mention it. But it was well: Vaughn was eager to travel on foot along the roads and byways of this place, to cross the bridges that somehow traverse the ocean itself between these southern islands, these Keys; he said it would give him an opportunity to observe more of this world where we find ourselves. We gave him fair share of the booty, some thousand dollars, as these money-papers name themselves, for his keep, and fond farewell wishes and friends’ embraces. Then we three pirates sailed for the Redoubt, which we struck a few hours before night fell. ‘Twas a fine homecoming of sorts; my spyglass gave us a clear view of Maid Flora and her mistress the Enchantress, at their ease in the Palace; these familiar faces, these familiar surroundings where I write this – they put smiles on our faces.

But then, this morning, the reason for my meditations on piracy and my own nature arrived. I took my men creeping to the road before dawn brought Maid Flora, and we made our way to town. I sought to sell the jewelry we had captured, and thought of the shop where I had traded my ruby ring for a wheel-gun and a license for same, and my first money-papers.

I could not at first recall the course to reach it; I had traveled it before in the back of the Lopez beast-wagon, and it amazes how different the landscape looks on foot. But I found it, as much by chance as by recall, and about midday we crossed the threshold of Morty’s Pawn Shop. There were customers within, and as we sought privacy for our transactions, we passed the time in looking over the stock and the prices, affixed to each piece in ink on a slip of white paper tied with string. I saw chains similar to those we had from the pill-man, with “200-” tied to them, even 275-, and a pair of earbobs priced at twice that with diamonds less fine than those in my pocket. I grew eager thinking of the profit we stood to make here.

Aye, a lust for gold, indeed. A pirate I be.

When the shop had cleared but for the three of us and the corpulent fellow behind the cases filled with goods for sale, I hailed him pleasantly, asking if he recalled our prior encounter and exchanges; he gave me naught but a cool stare, at first, but then admitted some small acquaintance with my rather unforgettable self. I produced our booty with a showman’s flourish, and laid it all out on the glass counter top, for his appraisal, and praise, I expected.

I did not get what I expected.

Morty – for this was the shopowner himself – snorted a derisive laugh, poking at the booty with one grimy finger. “What’s all this crap?” he sneered.

I knew not the term he used, but I could not mistake his tone. Still, I assumed it was merely a haggler’s opening ploy, however insulting it sounded. “We wish to offer these fine pieces to you, to enrich your stock in exchange for enriching our purses.”

He looked the three of us over, again with an insulting and contemptuous air about him. I began to feel my temper, that piratical anger of which I spoke, rise behind my eyes.

“Your mother get tired of standing on the corner?” he asked, his lip curled and one brow raised sardonically.

I took this to mean that he thought my family owned a market stall, or perhaps simply stood on corners hawking our wares; I presumed he insulted me by implying that at my age, I still found employment only with my mother, incapable of finding my own trade, and I swallowed my pride again. I forced a smile on my face, over the protestations of my lips. “Nay, my good man, we traded for these.” Aye – the jewels in exchange for a lowered pistol, a blade sheathed unblooded – a fair price for some shiny baubles, not so? “What will you offer us for them?”

He snorted, and poked at the chains, flicking the diamonds with his fingertip. “Twenty bucks.”

I remembered the bucks from my first visit here, but surely he could not mean a mere twenty dollar-papers? “Twenty dollars? For which?”

“For all of it, ya dumb mick,” he barked, and then sat back and laced his fingers over his belly.

I took a deep breath, and the ire subsided slightly. For a moment. Somewhat like the trough before the great wave crashes over the rail. “Come, my good sir: you have similar goods on display and costing better than a thousand dollars, all told; surely you will profit from these, as well? Profit enough to offer a fair price for them?”

He shook his head. “You want a fair price? Show me the receipt. Show me the insurance valuation. Hell, show me the gift card that says, ‘Happy Birthday, enjoy your gangster pimp bling.'” He leaned forward, thrusting a finger at me like a fat, stubby rapier. “But you can’t. because that shit there is hot. It’s stolen. So a fair price for you is whatever the fuck I say it is. You get me now, shit-for-brains?” He sat back once more, shrugging his shoulders with his hands spread wide. “Twenty bucks. Or shove that stuff back up your ass.”

Now the wave crested, and I could not hide my anger. I placed my hand on the wheel-gun in my pocket, an unmistakable signal of intent, but did not draw. “I will take an apology from you, sir. Only after that will I and my companions depart.” I waited.

He snorted a laugh again. “Go fuck your drunk mother, mick.”

The moment that word “mother” left his vile worm-lips, I reached across the counter and seized hold of his shirt, intending to drag him bodily to my side of the display cases. But with a shout, he fell off of his stool, his weight tearing away my grasp. He landed heavily on his knees, and bent forward, scrambling under the counter, presumably for a weapon to defend himself.

We didn’t give him the chance. Lynch snatched up a heavy gold filigreed box, the sort of thing a lady keeps her jewels in, and flung it at the cur, opening a gash in his forehead and knocking him back on his heels; he clapped both hands to his head with a cry, giving up his attempt to arm himself. MacTeigue vaulted the counter and seized the man’s right wrist, which he twisted while dealing him a kick to the right leg that sent him a-sprawl, all his weight falling on his badly-angled arm in MacTeigue’s grip, eliciting a high, womanish shriek of pain.

“Lynch, the door!” I shouted, and the lad slipped past me to the shop’s entrance, which he pressed his back against, and, drawing his pistola, he scanned the street over his shoulders, keeping a watch. I leaned over the counter and grabbed the man’s bent arm from MacTeigue. “Get him up,” I ordered, and MacTeigue hauled on the man’s belt.

He came up swinging, his left arm flailing about and smacking MacTeigue weakly on the shoulder and chin. My cousin responded with a sharp, hard blow to the man’s kidney, which turned the pig a pale green and left him whimpering in pain. I hauled up on his arm then, pulling him forward into my fist, which turned his Hebrew nose into an Irish one – flat and bent and bleeding. I pressed his face onto the counter and leaned on the back of his neck as he spluttered and coughed out blood, and MacTeigue took hold of his left arm and put it on the counter as well, looking to me then for orders.

“Look for the key to the door. Rummage his pockets.” As MacTeigue did so, a look of distaste on his face at having to reach into the fat man’s pants, I ordered Lynch to turn the sign on the door so that it read “Closed” rather than “Open.” MacTeigue found a ring of keys, which he tossed to Lynch, who quickly found the right one and bolted the door, barring any interruptions.

I had MacTeigue right the bastard’s stool, and then place that massive posterior onto it. Then he and Lynch ransacked the shop while I kept the shite-pile’s ugly face pressed to the glass and gave him a lesson in humility. He struggled mightily as soon as I drew my boot knife, and I was forced to have MacTeigue hold his head still while I carved my mother’s name into his scalp. Fah: I didn’t carve deep, only deep enough to let blood flow, and I did it under his greasy hair, so he need not be disfigured at all – but perhaps he would remember my mother’s name, and the reason why he should not say such things about that sainted woman. He flailed at me with both hands until I put his right hand on the glass pane beside the one that held his head, and then struck a sharp blow to the back of his hand, shattering the glass and slashing his skin in several places; after that he held still but for the whimpering. It would have been vociferous cries for help, had we not gagged him with a wad of cloth from his wares.

Lynch collected the pistols and jewelry on display, and found the man’s money-drawer, adding its contents to the impressive pile of dollars MacTeigue had drawn from his pockets. But it was when Lynch stepped through a curtained doorway to the storehouses in the back of the shop that he came across a locked metal chest, bolted to the floor, with a keyhole in the front; that was when I realized that this might be a more profitable day than I ever expected. But experimentation quickly showed that none of the keys on the ring fit this metal chest. A simple query as to the proper key’s whereabouts elicited only a spat curse, mixed with blood from the broken nose.

So we must needs ask more vigorously.

Lynch found a coil of bright-blue rope with some sundry goods, and tied the cur’s wrists behind him, his fingers interlaced and shoulders twisted back. Then, with the aid of a strong hook in the ceiling in the back portion of the shop, we introduced Master Morty to the strappado, the favorite torture of the Inquisition and the cause of many a confession: the rope binding his wrists was brought up to the hook and through, and then MacTeigue and I hauled the prisoner upwards until his feet left the floor, all of his weight pulling his shoulder blades back and his arms nearly out of their sockets – especially as much weight as this slovenly mongrel carried. ‘Tis nearly the equal of the rack, and far simpler to carry out; had he not told me the location of the key then, we could have pulled down on his legs to pull his arms out of joint entirely, or slashed at his feet with a thin metal rod, or perhaps set a fire under him as I had done to the Latin Lion at the House of Lopez. But the first lift of his body was enough, and soon we had the key and opened the chest to find treasure within: stacks of money-paper in bound bundles, totaling more than thirty thousands of dollars.

But the avaricious joy of our success soon gave way to chagrin. Though the black-tongued rogue had denigrated my honor and that of my blessed mother, he had made me a most eloquent and sincere apology for same, and so I considered the matter ended. Thus I could not justly kill him. But left alive, he would soon have brought la policia down on our necks, and we should find ourselves in gaol for this and other crimes.

This, then, is the price of that impatience I have told is the hallmark and signet of piracy. Were I a patient man, I would have walked out of the shop when he insulted me, and planned my vengeance carefully and properly, so that nothing would set la policia on my trail. Or I would not have come here at all, preferring to sell my wares in the marketplace – earning perhaps even more money than this man would have given me in fair trade (Though not so much as we have taken from him now – there do be rewards with the pirate’s life, aye.). But I would not wait to sell, and I would not wait for satisfaction. Now I have possession of a man whom I would not kill, and I cannot allow to go free.

We took the only option available: we kept him. We waited until nightfall, and then we left the locked shop by its back door, with the fat shopkeep bound and gagged and stumbling between MacTeigue and I, as Lynch led us along back alleys and dark streets to the Redoubt, at last. Here we will hold him hostage until I think of a way to solve this conundrum to our advantage.

Aye, a pirate I be. Impatient, intemperate, lacking foresight.

But wealthy.

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Log 20: To Arms

Captain’s Log

Date: 5th of July, 2011

Location: Miami, Florida. The home of the Family Lopez.

Conditions: Marooned, but regaining my land legs.

 

I awoke in my garradge feeling much improved of body, this morn. I emerged to greet mine hosts, and found that Maid Flora’s brother Alejandro, a lad of only ten summers and the youngest child of Mistress Clara Lopez, was the sole Lopez yet returned from the Elysian fields of slumber. Alejandro was enraptured by the images on their magic window. This was much like the magic window which Vaughn had shown me at the Palace, before that thrice-damned sanctimonious hypocritical poisoner O’Grady had smashed it, only this window was smaller; I sat down beside him to attempt to learn what I could from this ever-mysterious oracle. The lad quite sensibly was stretched prostrate across a thin rug on the tiled floor; the reclining couches in this house, like those at the Palace, are utterly absurd in their sybaritic decadence; I find them too comfortable for comfort. I think no one but a hedonistic nobleman of old Rome – nothing less than a new Caligula, a Nero – would need a seat so laughably soft. Why have a bench that does not support you, but rather swallows you into its pillowed embrace? I must note that if these sorts of engulfing pillow-thrones are commonplace, methinks the people of this time will prove easy pickings for a rough and ready pirate crew. One could storm and loot an entire house before the inhabitants even managed to raise themselves out of the depths of their chairs.

Though young Alejandro had sense in his choice of place, I soon found the magic window’s images far too lunatic and manic to observe. I tried asking the boy – who speaks a better English than his siblings or mother, and so has frequently served a turn as translator in my time here – for explanations, but beyond the knowledge that this was some depiction of a story (or perhaps a hero?) named Dragon Ball Zee, I was more frequently instructed to be quiet so as not to interrupt the beguiling madness behind the window. It soon made my head ache and swim at once, as though I had drained the foul dregs of a cask of new whiskey, and I excused myself to perform my morning ablutions.

This has not ceased to amaze me. Maid Flora kindly instructed me in the use of the washing-room (Ell Ban-yo, I believe is the Spanish), and I have learned from observation that these people bathe daily. The boy Alejandro, indeed, bathes even more frequently, being impelled to do so by Mistress Lopez whensoe’er the boy returns enmuddied by his games. This washing-room has the same incredible water-spouts as did the Palace; I cannot fathom where such a wealth of clean water is stored in this modest home. It has not rained since I arrived here, and I saw no aqueducts, and yet the well has not run dry, nor have the Lopezes evinced the slightest worry that it will do so. I have taken my lesson from them, and have made use of this unending water to clean my tarry hide as I have not done in months, as a single rinsing cannot accomplish. Maid Flora was kind enough to launder my togs, as well, offering me the underclothes of either Juan or Ignacio to cover my nakedness in the meantime – I did not ask which, owing to the intimacy of the clothing in question. I was forced to remain cloistered in the garradge for the sake of propriety; the thinness of the shirt and britches would have made any public appearance quite indecent. I was most gladdened to return to my proper clothing.

When I was finished cleansing my carcass, which was now returning to its former state of pinkness, I found that Maid Flora and Mistress Lopez had arisen and made a fine meal to break our fast; I made my best effort to be glad company to my kind hosts – especially as I have observed that their menfolk seem generally sullen at meals; Juan and Ignacio are habitually silent, or else spend the time at table staring at the magic window, observing the same strange ritual I saw with Vaughn, involving several men in colored smallclothes kicking and chasing a child’s ball across a grassy meadow. They named it foot-ball, which seems to me a childishly simple name – though it is a childish game, as well, so small wonder. This morning, neither brother was even present: Juan had not returned from his employment, and Ignacio had not risen from bed.

Allow me the indulgence of paying my hosts yet another compliment, in regards to the table they set, which is ever generous as well as sublimely sumptuous to the palate; so accustomed am I to sailor’s fare, salted and boiled and peppered meat and biscuit, with hunger as the only spice, that I fear I make quite the glutton of myself, though these ladies seem gladdened by my visible and audible appreciation. Once we were sated, Maid Flora prepared to leave for the Palace. Her brother Juan, who has employment at some sort of tavern, owned by one MacDonald, returned then, his master requiring his services in the dark hours of the night – which makes me wonder at the sort of base, lawless establishment this MacDonald runs, that he serves his customers when decent folk are a-bed (and, too, if I might find a decent mug of grog and a comely wench there for my own self; Juan seems to think not). Juan’s return roused Ignacio, and the ensuing conversation, held in Spanish, with the pertinent elements translated for me by Maid Flora, resulted in Ignacio and Mistress Lopez extending an invitation to myself to go to market with them, had I any need to make a purchase.

I had great need, though at first I could not communicate it. Apart from my boot knife with blade, though sharp, a mere handspan in length, I have been left utterly defenseless by those black-hearted scoundrels who stole my ship. The Lopez family nodded at the word pistola, though Juan and Ignacio exchanged a dark look when I spake it – but I could not bring them to understand either “sword” or “blade,” “rapier” nor “cutlass,” nor any other word I could manage. Finally I took up a cooking knife – a blade of goodly heft, I must say, though of course it has no fighting balance – and pantomimed a duel. The Spanish word is espada, it seems. More conversation followed, resulting in a question, delicately proffered, regarding any available funds; I showed them my ring, gold with a cabochon ruby inset, and they seemed relieved.

We departed in their wagon-beast and soon arrived at a shop where the proprietor bought and sold goods of every stripe and kind imaginable. Upon entry, I was dazzled by the display: there were ladies’ parasols and gentlemen’s canes, coats and hats and boots, jewelry and paintings, magic windows, musical instruments, and a thousand things I could not fathom. At Mistress Lopez’s urging, I offered the man my ruby ring; he gazed at it through some arcane eyepiece, and then he said, “Fifty bucks.” Before I could express my confusion – was he offering me fifty male deer in exchange for a single gemstone? How had he gathered so many? And what would I with such a prodigious herd? – Mistress Lopez exploded into violent Spanish, with much shouting and gesticulating, which the merchant returned in kind. I gathered, when I realized Mistress Lopez indicated a display of finger rings, which generally had smaller stones than mine or none at all, each ring sporting a small slip of paper reading 50 and 100 and 200 and 350 and the like, that the man’s first offer was offensively low. At the end of the haranguing, the man counted out five pieces of green-tinted paper, all numbered 100 and bearing a portrait of a distinguished gentleman with spectacles and white hair, and Mistress Lopez nodded in satisfaction and gestured that I should retrieve the paper and surrender my ring. I was still confused by the term “bucks,” as there were no deer represented nor named on the paper; as they seem to be named “dollars,” I will call them such here.

At Ignacio’s urging, I asked the man for a pistola, such apparently being within his purview, too. He walked me to another display, behind metal bars and a pane of fine, flawlessly clear glass, of a dozen or more weapons much like the strange one we had taken from the man MacManus shot at the Palace. Even as I hold one now, I am confused by the configuration, and the lack of a proper wooden stock, but the greatest puzzle of the weapons to me is their size! Like a child’s playthings, they are! And all without ramrod or lock of any kind, flint or wheel or even match. I asked about the largest, a piece of black iron still half the size of a proper pistola. The man looked askance at me, scratching at his large and bearded chin, and then asked, “You got a license?” My bewilderment answered his question, because he then asked, “You got any more cash?” On my returning precisely the same response again – namely a confused silence – he snorted and said, “You can’t afford that one.”

I was alerted by Mistress Lopez’s action, and I peered at the paper affixed to my choice. “It says 500, there. Is it not the same as these?” I waved my dollars at the man.

He narrowed his eyes. “What the hell else would it be? It ain’t goddamn pesos. But I gotta sell you a license, too, and that’ll cost ya 200 on top of the gun.”

That put the majority of the weapons here out of my reach. I considered haggling – or releasing the wrath of Mistress Lopez once more, who still looked daggers at the merchant, though he avoided her gaze most assiduously – but as I could not fathom this talk of licenses, I decided to take him at his word. I was not offended by his attempt to gain my ring at a tenth its worth; rather I felt some kinship. A proper pirate he would have made, I wot.

Thus I indicated a pistola which was labeled 200, and he gladly sold me that. I asked for the license he spoke of, but he gave me a look so laden with sardonic contempt that I at last grasped the nature of this license – that it was a bribe. There must be some law controlling the sale and ownership of weapons, here. Cromwell had done the same to my beloved Ireland, as the damned English had done to our Scotch cousins, too. I wondered if there were some vile tyrant with this land in his iron fist – though if that were the case, it seemed terribly foolhardy of this man to display forbidden weapons to all and sundry.

This world is a terrible confusion to me.

Any road, I returned four of the five green dollar-papers, and the merchant gave me the pistola. I hefted it – satisfyingly solid, albeit small – and then asked the man, “How does it work?”

Apparently I am a terrible confusion to this world, also.

We left the shop as unarmed as we came, for the merchant did not sell powder and shot – what he called Amm-owe – and thus I had naught but a boot knife and a small oddly-shaped club.

The company journeyed on to a place that brought me great comfort, owing to the familiarity of the sights, the sounds, the very air redolent of pasties and meat pies, sugared snacks and fruit, and ale, and mead, and wine – this, this was a proper market. Stalls in rows filled a great open square, with a multitude of voices raised: in negotiations, both friendly and pointed; in the joy of discovery, and in sorrow over broken dreams – as the price is revealed beyond the wanter’s means, as the customer walks away with hands empty and purse un-lightened. Merchants spread goods on blankets, across tables and chests or strung on lines between poles; some under tents and some under the open sky. Clothing sold beside fresh food beside tools beside objects I could not hope to identify, beside boots and sandals that would not have looked amiss at home, three centuries ago and thousands of miles away.

This was, bespoke a sign at the entrance, the South Miami Flea Market. I did ask why the market was named for pestiferous vermin, but could not make myself understood to my companions.

Ignacio quickly guided me to a large stall that sold goods to hunters: mock waterfowl, apparently for use as lures; bows and arrows of a sort I had not seen; game bags and boots, coats and hats, all in a shockingly ugly sort of mottled green-brown cloth that looked filthy and mud-caked even when clearly never worn. I presented my new small, odd club to the merchant and asked for amm-owe; the man looked, nodded, and said, “Thirty-eight.” He rummaged through some crates behind his table and presented me with a small square box; he lifted the fitted lid and showed me an array of small brass trinkets. When I did not react at all, he asked for my pistola, which I gave him; he opened it smoothly, pulled the brass trinkets from their rack – they are round and oblong, somewhat like smooth thimbles, or perhaps replicas of a large animal’s teeth – and placed them into holes in the pistola. They fit perfectly, as he showed me, and when I nodded, he put them back in the rack, gave me back my empty weapon, and traded me my last 100-dollar paper for the box of amm-owe and four new sheets of paper numbered 50, 10, 10, and 5. At my request he repeated the opening and loading of the pistola twice more until I saw the way of it.

We meandered through the rows, the sights and sounds easing knots in my viscera I had not known were there; there is a dis-ease in being in such a strange place that may not be immediately apparent even in one’s self, but which, when it be even slightly ameliorated, is replaced with a relief and a bliss that makes one nigh giddy. So a spring came back in my step, and before long, I found myself whistling and laughing aloud, as Mistress Lopez poked and frowned her way through goods and sundries, taking very little and leaving a string of sour-faced merchants in her wake.

Partway along our third row, we came across what I sought – or so I at first believed. It was a merchant – a prosperous one, with tent and cloth-covered table – who sold weapons, the kind of weapons I knew and longed for: blades. For the first time, when I espied the black scabbards and gleaming naked steel, I hastened forward alone, leaving my companions well behind me. The merchant was engrossed in conversation with a thin spotty-faced youth, and so I strode directly to the table of goods and clapped hands on the first likely-looking weapon: a rapier of moderate length with a simple guard.

To my disappointment. I did not even need to draw it from its sheath to know that it was a piece of work so shoddy as to hardly deserve the name “sword.” The steel was far too light, the blade clearly virgin and too dull to cut my fingertip, and the hilt rattled, so poorly was it affixed to the tang. A slip of paper attached to the hilt with string read “Captain Jack Sparrow: $125.” I dropped the sorry thing, pitying this Captain Sparrow had he ever possessed such a miserable blade, and took up another, this a sort of broadsword with a hand-and-a-half hilt – useful for heavy work.

But this was even worse. The grip was a leather slick to the touch even without the blood and sweat that soon enough coat one’s hands in any combat. I bared the blade to find that this one had apparently never even heard of a whetstone, so dull was its edge, and there was apparently no balance at all; it was no surprise that this one also showed not a nick, not a scratch, no evidence of use. This one bore a tag reading, “Aragorn: $180.” I made a noise of disgust and threw this miserable metal stick down on the table, where it rattled against the first.

“Hey! Careful with those!” the merchant called out.

“Why?” I retorted. “They seem entirely harmless.” He turned back to his companion, though he kept his gaze on me. Perhaps one of these odd-hilted pieces, which seem the favored and popular style here: a long, two-hand hilt, cloth-wrapped, with a round guard merely the size of a large coin – smaller than a man’s fist on the hilt, which, one would think, would defeat the point of a guard entire. I took one up, bared the blade – single edged and slightly curved, like a saber, but straighter than any saber I had seen, and with a triangular tip – and examined it. I was surprised to see that this had something of an edge, but – the steel. As an experiment, I laid the flat of the blade across one raised knee, and pressed, almost delicately.

The blade snapped.

“Hey!” the merchant – the blackguard – shouted again, now leaving his conversation to accost me, but I denied him the chance.

“How dare you, sir!” I shouted, and rammed the inch of broken blade affixed to the hilt into the table before me with force sufficient to bite into the wood. “How dare you sell weapons that would kill the wielder ere he ever had a chance to defend himself ‘gainst his foe!” I took the blade in hand and snapped it again, with not more force than the first time; I dropped the pieces of – it could not be genuine steel; was it tin? Perhaps painted wood? – on the ground and thrust my extended finger into his chest, surely doing more injury than I could have with a similar thrust of one of his blades. “I have seen shoddy workmanship before, sir, but this is beyond the pale! Is there no craft in these at all? Were they manufactured by trained dogs, sir? Are these toys for children, perhaps?” I punctuated my words with ever-stronger thrusts of my finger-rapier, first halting his froward motion and then forcing him back. “Or do you perhaps have an arrangement with a band of rogues, highwaymen who set upon your customers at your signal, assured that the man will be defenseless howsoever he believes otherwise?”

The blackguard, cowed by my righteous fury, blinked, and held up his hands placatingly. “No, no, they – they’re just for display. They’re replicas. You know? Lord of the rings? Pirates of the Caribbean?” This last phrase gave him pause, as he took in my piratical appearance, frilled shirt and vest and sash over loose pantaloons gathered into my high boots.

I scoffed at him. “A pirate would be gladder of a marlinspike or a belaying pin in fist rather than one of these. For myself, I would rather have my empty hand,” and here I lunged forward again and slapped him across the cheek with that same empty hand. And then I bid him good day, took up the arm of Mistress Lopez, who had approached the hurly-burly when she heard me shouting, and marched off with my dignity, but still no blade.

I found it at last among a jumble of swag – clearly the emptied contents of a traveling trunk or sea-chest – which included clothing, a bit of jewelry, a leather belt, some books and pens and paper and the like. The scabbard was beaten and scarred, as a scabbard should be, the blade was as well, but these were the scars of use. This was a proper saber, the blade perhaps two feet in length – a mounted man’s weapon, made for slashing rather than thrusting, yet capable of both, and light enough to parry well, while heavy enough to block a cutlass-slash. As I admired the blade, which had a serviceable hilt and a proper balance just beyond the guard, the merchant told me of its provenance. It had come from Cuba, he said, from the revolution; he told me it had belonged to a man allied with someone named Shay, a rebel against the tyrant who had ruled that land. The rebels had taken it from a wealthy landowner, vassal to the tyrant and oppressor of the people; the man had had it engraved to show its new ownership and purpose – the merchant indicated the words, still visible despite age and wear: on one side of the blade it read “Sangre,” on the other, “Muerte,” and on the hilt, “Libertad.” Blood, death, and – the third word needed no translation. I had my sword. The man asked 150 dollars, but gladly took my remaining 75 and one of the gold coins I carried in my boot, having plucked them from the lining of my vest earlier for this purpose. We shook hands, and I thrust the sheath through my sash: once again, I felt whole.

And none too soon, it chanced, for at that very moment, a voice called out “Ignacio! Hey, Nacho!” We three looked back the way we had come, and saw four young swaggerers approaching, all wearing something blue, a shirt or headscarf or shoes dyed the color, all with the grins of hunting cats who find a nest with helpless chicks inside. The one in the lead spoke again. “Hey, man – we was just coming to see you, puto.” I recognized the voice as the one shouting outside my garradge, the day Juan and Ignacio had been so exercised, and at that moment, I recognized the blue headscarf: it was the same color as the one worn by the man MacManus had killed, blood spilled on my orders, at the Glass Palace a week or more ago.

These were his friends. And they were looking to spill some blood, too. Ours.

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