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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 #70: Blackmail

Log

I am a fool.

I cannot now conceive of what madness struck me and persuaded me to trust Calhoun. Lynch, of course, had the right of it, and did not grant one iota of faith in that lying, mendacious blackguard; and so is Lynch innocent, both of folly, and of murder.

It is only we three, Kelly, Shane and myself, who are murderous fools.

After the slaughter, we returned to Dame Flanagan’s abode, Lynch opening the portal for MacManus and Kelly, though I am still barred from the house owing to my mistreatment of Meredith Vance. I laid my head in the beast-wagon, of course, as I have done these last many days; I kept my log, full of pride and vanity, and then slept the contented slumber of the victorious, of the righteous.

Until this morn, when I found that I had slept in the innocent oblivion of a fool for days; even though I have walked about, spoken, fought, struck devil’s bargains and, aye, committed more than one murder.

I discovered this in the late morning, near midday, when I was on the porch with my companions, plotting our course once we reach Bermuda, trying to determine how we would find our ship in that place, and how retrieve her. Lynch was within the house, pursuing I knew not what course. As we palavered thus, we were interrupted by the arrival of one Brick Calhoun, Bastard of Charleston. He arrived in a different beast-wagon than the decrepit tin-pot he had steered last night; this one was tall and shining like new silver, where it wasn’t lacquered a rich, gleaming black; the shape was more akin to a proper wagon, having a compartment for men near to the front and a long, low bed for cargo behind it. He came to a halt, making the beast growl – its voice was deeper and more powerful by far than the usual run of beast-wagons; this one made the window panes in Dame Flanagan’s house tremble as if in a storm blown down from the wintry north – and then he emerged, strutting, smiling, as if he had not a care in this world or the one after.

But he did bring cares for the rest of us, aye. Direful, woeful cares.

“Hey there, fellers,” he called out, with the bonhomie of a drunkard on New Year’s Eve, when every man will stand a drink for good luck’s sake. “How ye’all doin’ this fine and glorious Dixy-land day?” (I have not a single thought as to why he would call us fellers, which are, to my knowledge, woodsmen who fell trees. But there are many words that Calhoun uses, or misuses, and I do not understand why; so I have merely rendered his speech as I hear it.)

We three did glare at him in silence for some moments, proffering no further response to his greeting. “We have made a bargain with you, Calhoun,” quoth I, “but ‘twas neither for amicability nor hospitality, so press us not for civil intercourse with the likes of you.”

His smile vanished as I spoke, then slowly returned, like water seeping through a leak in a hull. “Shucks, I didn’t come here to press ye’all. Gnaw, I’m here to give you a present! A gift!” He removed a cell-phone from his pocket, showing it to us. “Ye’all want to see it? Take a look!” He touched the phone, tapping its glass face for some moments. Then he held it upright, the expression on his face one of eager anticipation.

It was a magic-window scene, and as such, something I did not wish to observe closely. I find that these magic windows give me a pain in my skull, and rarely if ever stand to a purpose beyond lies, vanity, and foolery for the sport of children. But I frowned and gazed into the glass in his hand, knowing that Calhoun would not come here without cause, and it behooved us to know what his intention was so that we might dismiss it, impede it, or permit it, as the case may be. Most like not the last, I did think. How little did I know.

It was a scene looked down upon from on high, as though we were cushion owners at a theatre, watching a performance from a rented box. There were four primary figures, all seemingly men, two pale and two dark of skin; one of the dark ones held his arm outstretched, pointing his finger – nay, it was a pistola – and speaking to the pale man, who held a sword –

The very moment I realized it, Kelly said, “Captain – it’s you!”

MacManus murmured, “It’s us,” and pointed towards the left side of the stone, where stood two men, farther away but still recognizable, largely because of Kelly’s size. When MacManus gestured, Calhoun drew the stone back, clearly not wishing MacManus to touch it; when MacManus dropped his hand, Calhoun thrust the stone closer to us once more, saying, “Look close, now. Don’t want to miss the good part.”

And we watched as I slashed the gun-toting dog’s wrist, and then hewed through the other’s neck. We could not see either the man above that Shane killed, nor the mighty stone that Kelly threw – that is, we watched him heft and hurl it, with a great shout, but not where it landed nor to what effect – but then the magic window turned, and we watched as we three slaughtered the men in the beast-wagon. Then it drew closer as I walked to the wounded dog, now lying on the ground, and I seemed just out of arm’s reach as I blinded the man and slew him with my blade. I looked back over my shoulder – at Calhoun, if I recall correctly – and then the window stopped moving, presenting a single image of my face, with the dead man lying on the ground behind me. Calhoun returned the glass to his pocket.

Gods. What have I gotten my men into? What have I done?

He held up one finger. “First thing: you boys need to know that I got friends, and they got copies o’ that there viddy-o. Anythin’ happens to me, they gone send it with your names an’ descriptions straight on to the police. So don’t be thinkin’ nothin’ ‘bout doin’ me like you done them fellers. Right?”

I exchanged a look with my men. We did not, if I may speak for them as well as for myself, understand all of what we had seen: we did not know how this magic window could see our past deeds as if they were occurring right now, nor if la policia would take our actions as murder, or a fair fight fairly won; nor if la policia could even find us, with but our names and descriptions. After all, the English have known my name, my ship, my face, for many a year, and still I had remained a free rover on the Irish seas; thus far we had known only the iron ships of the Guards of the Coast to be a formidable foe to us, and not the men of the city watch of Charleston. But we were all of us familiar with the ways of the blackmailer, the extortionist; ‘twas not often a stratagem between pirates, as we are not often protective of our good name and reputation in society; but we were not ignorant of the intrigues that happened in court and the like. I had no doubt that Calhoun would have made sure that his threats were both sincere and perilous before confronting us with them, knowing it would be the work of a moment for us to kill him where he stood. If he had learned nothing else from the killing last night, he would have learned that, having watched us butcher nine armed men like spring lambs.

“Aye,” I said to him, Kelly and Shane nodding beside me.

His arrogant face split into that impish grin. He held up another finger. “Second thing. I just gotta ask: does your arse hurt?”

I blinked my confusion, then shook my head. “Nay, we took no harm from the battle.”

Calhoun shook his head, and curled his two fingers back into his fist. “See, I would ha’ thought your arse would be burnin’ today. I mean, after I fucked that arse, and wrecked that arse – I’m surprised bein’ my bitch don’t hurt you none. But maybe after the shock wears off.” Then he laughed, long and loud and booming.

I mastered my temper by remembering my men. Just at this moment, I would fain have slaughtered this pig, and gone smiling to the gibbet for it – except I would not hang alone.

“What would ye have of us?” I asked him when his amusement fell to a pig’s snorts and grunts. “We’ve little money. Ah,” I said as it came to me then, “of course. We will move on and clear the field for ye to woo Meredith.” I started to turn and order my men to gather their belongings and weigh anchor, but Calhoun stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. It was all I could do to resist the urge to break his arm, but I was able to turn back to confront that grinning pig’s face.

“Hold on, now. That aint what this is about. Besides, Merry aint yours to give. Tell you the truth, if I wanted to take Meredith, there aint shit you could do to stop me.” He paused then, and after a moment raised his eyebrows. I realized he was awaiting some response from me, and so I nodded and gestured for him to go on. Perhaps he has the right of it; I have been enough of a fool over Meredith Vance, and I intend to stop dancing to her tune, any road. Saying this to the pig bothered my pride far less than the constant haranguing knowledge that I had given my men over to the grasp of this extortionist devil.

He smiled wide at what he saw as my capitulation, and then said, “Gnaw, I told you before, you go to that meetin’ with me, I’d see you get to Bermuda. I’m a man o’ my word, and so to Bermuda you go. But when you get there, see, there’s a thing ye’all’s gone do for me. Don’t worry,” he drew the Verizon-stone again and waggled it at us, “it aint nothin’ you didn’t already do nine times last night.” He put the cell-phone back into his pocket and turned away, laughing his booming pig-snort of a guffaw.

And then he ran face-to-face into Balthazar Lynch. Well, face-to-chest; Calhoun is my height, well above young Lynch, and twice the weight of the slender youth. But my man held his ground, and it was Calhoun who fell back from him, though from startlement, in the main. Lynch stared at him coldly. Calhoun cursed and reddened, his amusement curdled quickly into ire. He stepped close, looming over Lynch; and yet the lad backed away not an inch, not a step.

“You got somethin’ you want to say, you little shit?” Calhoun snarled, hands in white-knuckled fists. But the sly look was never far from his eyes, it seemed, and his gaze flickered back towards the three of us, his lip curling. “You didn’t see what I got on your boys, there. Want to look? See what it looks like to have three sets o’ balls in a vise?” He took out the cell-phone and waggled it – though he was careful to keep it out of Lynch’s easy reach, I saw. But Lynch did not react. His wintry stare remained frozen to Calhoun’s flushed face, which, I saw, was rapidly sallowing as the lad – no, as my man – stared him down, entirely without fear.

Then he spoke. “I follow my captain. He wishes to allow you to set our course for now, so be it. ‘Tis often the best way when facing a coward, and I will go where he wills it.” Lynch pointed at me, to show whose will he would follow. Then he tilted his head, his eyes narrowing. “But ere you leave, you will know this: if you make good on your threats, and doom my captain and my shipmates with whatever ye have on that ‘phone, then I will cut you open and feed your innards to the sharks while you watch.”

His face turning red once more, Calhoun grabbed for Lynch, but my man leaned back out of his grasp, and, with the speed of a hunting cat striking, he had a dagger drawn and the tip against Calhoun’s gut. Calhoun went still as a stump, and stand there for a moment, they did. Then Lynch said softly, “If they die, you die. Remember it.” He lowered the blade, stepped back and out of Calhoun’s path. The pig looked at him, then nodded, wiping his mouth. It was the nod of a man who recognizes an enemy; it held the assurance of enmity, Calhoun’s promise that he would find a way to best Balthazar Lynch, or die trying.

Lynch’s expression said clearly that he would die trying.

The pig looked back at the three of us – the weak-minded fools whom he had bested already – and his smile returned, his swagger with it. Ye gods, but I hate that I have given that verminous toad a reason to gloat. He strutted past Lynch without another glance, and swung up into his beast-wagon. He shut the hatch, brought the beast to life with a thunderous growl, and then pointed at me and called out, “I’ll be in touch, boys. Don’t go nowheres.” Off he roared.

Lynch turned to look at me, and I could not meet his eyes. There was but one man of worth in that place that day, and I could not bear the shame of it. It sickens me even now to write of it, to write of any of this. “Kelly, Shane,” I said, turning to them, seeing in their eyes the same humiliation I felt tearing at my gut, “Gather your gear. We be a danger to Dame Margaret’s house, now.” I turned halfway back, but could not bear to look at him to whom I now spoke. “Mr. Lynch,” I said, “I would ask that you stay, and bring us word from Calhoun when – when it comes.”

“Captain,” Lynch said then. He took a step toward me, reaching out with one hand.

I wish it had held the dagger, still. Perhaps I could have thrown myself upon it, regained some worth as a man. But his hand was empty.

“Nate?” he said.

I said nothing. I turned away. I skulked to my wagon-van, and then thought better of it. “Tell the Grables they have earned this wagon. They should take it and depart: there is naught else of value for them here.” I turned and looked at MacManus. “I will head east. Catch me up when you are equipped.” He nodded, and he and Kelly went inside, moving quickly but with heads low and shoulders bent.

Lynch reached me. He grabbed hold of my wrist. “Nate, wait,” he said.

I pulled my arm from his grasp. I’d have done it with force, perhaps cuffed the boy for his impudence, but I had not the authority to chastise him; not now. Nor the strength: the weight of my shame had exhausted me entirely. Without looking at him, I spake these words. “If ye wish to remain when we three sail to Bermuda, I do hereby set ye free of all oaths, all bonds of loyalty. They are nothing now but chains, that will weigh ye down, drag ye to the hellish depths where I writhe now. If ye will bear word to us, that is all I would ask. All I can ask of ye, now.”

“Nate, please!” he said, and I heard tears in his words.

I looked at him then, at his clear features, his large eyes now awash with salt drops. “Ye’re a good man, Balthazar,” I told him. “I am sorry that I am not.”

Then I walked away. Lynch let me go.

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