Date: 25th of July, 2011
Location: Redoubt at the Glass Palace
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.