The Writers Voice
The Women on Whitehead Street
Captain Croft woke instantly. The easy sailing motion of HMS Hercules stopped abruptly. The regular chugging sound of the paddle wheels came to an abrupt halt. Croft cursed. It was a dark night and his ship had just run aground while steaming west in the straits, just south of the Florida Keys. “Thank God, it wasn’t a reef,” he muttered, sitting up to pull his pants on. If some dull-witted subordinate had sunk Hercules, Croft would have had to resign from the navy, and then kill the buffoon in a duel.
Croft heard quick, light steps and saw the illumination under his door. Young Midshipman Conners banged the door open and ran into the tiny room with a swinging lantern. “Lieutenant Wimpole has run us aground, sur’,” he blurted in his squeaky voice.
“So he has.” Croft buttoned his shirt. “Mr. Conners, get your mates and over the side with you. Come back and tell me how bad.”
“Aye, Captain.” And the lad disappeared.
It was a grayish dawn, when Croft came on deck and found Lieutenants Frye and Wimpole on the forecastle, looking over the side. Hercules’ midshipmen were swimming below.
“I don’t think its very bad, sir,” Frye said. Croft also felt the rocking motion of the ship and didn’t think the keel could be too deeply dug in to the sand.
“Frye find something to do,” Croft said quietly. Frye stepped down to the main deck, and Croft turned to Lieutenant Wimpole, a blond-haired man with a passive face. Croft knew Wimpole had much less ambition than his wealthy parents had hoped for. “I don’t know how you did this, Wimpole, but if you don’t get your bloody head out of your bloody arse and back on your shoulders, I’ll see you out of Her Majesty’s Royal Navy,” Croft barked.
“I think we’re slightly off course, sir,” Wimpole said, trying to remain calm.
“Jolly well! That’s the most stimulating discovery of the century,” Croft said with mock enthusias m. “What the hell do you intend to do about our situation, which you are responsible for creating, Mr. Wimpole.”
“We reverse the direction of our piston engine and let the paddle wheels drag us off the sand, sir.”
“I don’t think that will work, sur’,” Conners said, in dripping wet shorts, as he climbed over the gunnel. “It’s not the keel, we’re in a trough, just the paddle wheels are dug into the sand. The good news is we’re not deep in the sand, maybe a meter.”
Lieutenant Frye, standing on the main deck, was close enough to hear; and Croft heard him say to no one in particular, “I hate those damn things.”
“You were saying, Mr. Wimpole,” Croft persisted.
“Use our boats to tow us off,” Wimpole suggested, right from the book.
Croft nodded. “Let’s hope, for your sake, that works.”
Jason was also awake at sunrise. He had woken early and turned to Addie but, half asleep, she said, “Not now,” yawned, curled up her legs, and wrapped herself around her pillow.
Restless, Jason dressed and went up on deck. The eastern horizon was reddish and the sky overcast with little wind to move the clouds around. The sea was calm, flat, like the ice of a frozen northern lake. Jason decided this sea had many moods. From the bow, Miles called Jason forward and handed over the telescope. Jason could just make out the top of a tall ship coming from the south and directed Miles aloft, handing back the telescope. Miles quickly climbed ratlines, then shrouds to the top of the main mast. “Two ships,” Miles shouted.
Jason had to assume the worst, that the Raven and the Detroit were bearing down on them, but ever so slowly because of the slack wind. Miles slid down the ship’s rigging and said, “Depending on the wind, they could be here very soon.”
“Swim ashore and tell the marines to come aboard.”
“Aye, sir. I’ll see to it.” Miles saluted properly like a real soldier and jumped over the side of the Sweet Pea. Too damn eager, Jason thought.
Addie came on deck and grasped his arm. “Jase, an itch or an instinct told me to get up. What’s going on?”
Jason pointed at the tiny, dark spots on the horizon. “Two ships from the south. If it’s Carney and Stogger, we could be engaged by noon. I love you, Addie.” He took her in his arms and kissed her. “Now, go and prepare your infirmary.”
She looked at the approaching enemy and back at Jason. He saw clear, cold fear in Addie’s big, beautiful eyes. It was an emotion Jason recognized easily, because he had seen it many times before. “I’ll be ready, Jase.” She fidgeted and said, “I’ve never been at the front. I hope . . . I hope I’m brave enough.”
Jason had a sad sensation of regret at that instant. He should have had Addie kidnaped in the middle of the night and stolen away to England for Sir James Kenyon to lock up for safekeeping in some ancient stone tower. Instead, Jason drew her close and tightly held her. He wanted to remind Addie she was here by her own choice, but kept silent. “You’ll do fine. I love you, Addie.” She responded with a brave, sweet, but apprehensive/sad smile, and went to her tasks.
Jason walked over to Pip and Mackenzie’s tent amidship and heard them both snoring, but not in any particular rhythm. “Girls, get your clothes on. Jack Carney is coming for lunch. Don’t wear your silly uniform today, Mackenzie. You would make a grand target.”
Jason heard a commotion from within and Pip stuck an unruly head out the tent flap. “Oh, good morning, sir.” His voice was drowsy. “Did you say something about lunch? Isn’t it a tad early?”
“God help us.” Jason rolled his eyes skyward and shook his head back and forth. “Get dressed and prepare your battery.”
“What’s all the fuss, Jase?” Harry asked. He yawned and tried to wipe the sleep from his eyes.
“Looks like Carney is coming.” Jason pointed.
“Well, that doesn’t change my routine right now. We’ll start on breakfast, and then I’ll get up steam.” Harry was as cool as ever in the face of danger.
“What’s this about pirates?” Sarah asked.
“They’re here,” Jason said, pointing south.
“About time. Jack Carney,” Sarah’s voice sounded ugly to Jason, and she stared into his eyes and grabbed him with both hands on his biceps squeezing tight. “You have to kill him; you know you have to kill him, Jason,” she said vehemently, and walked away.
Crawford Wales lit a signal fire on the atoll to summon the Shenandoah, A.J. Case’s sloop, which was supposed to be on station several miles northwest. Then Wales brought his marines on board the Sweet Pea. They were in their uniforms, heavy boots, tan britches and dark blue flannel shirts, each armed with a .45 caliber Colt pistol, a Winchester repeater, and a bandolier of ammunition. Some had large knives sheathed on their belts.
There was plenty of time, so breakfast was served and then the crew stowed the salvage gear and the Jellyfish below deck. As everyone ate, and then worked, all eyes occasionally glanced nervously south.
Jason went below and changed to sturdy leather boots, heavy black trousers, and a tan linen shirt. He buckled on his gunbelt, lit a cigar, and slung a leather pouch containing a hundred cartridges over his shoulder for a Winchester rifle, and climbed the companionway to the main deck.
He moved amongst the sailors and marines, and talked to each man or to small groups, trying to spread confidence and bolster their morale. Jason knew this facet of his role as the leader. Knowing all their names by now, Jason told them all their preparations, armor, cannons, and English dandies were all the best available.
They, in turn, were jovial and appreciative that Jason came to talk with them. “You all right, kid?” Jason put a hand on young Private Rice’s shoulder. Rice was from the slums of New York and had told Jason that life in the marines was wonderful, compared with being poor, and living in a northern city.
“I’m nervous, Captain Pike. But I won’t let you down, sir.”
“I know you’ll do fine, son,” Jason responded.
His buddy and his squad leader, Corporal Ballentine, smiled. “We’re as ready as we’ll ever be, captain.”
“I think so too, corporal. Good luck.” Jason noticed Sam Lewis’ sailors were all solemn. Their mood was stoic determination.
The wind picked up, and the Raven and the Detroit came on under full sail. Mackenzie and Nolan were ready at turret number one on the forecastle. The bowsprit had been taken down and they had a clear field of fire. A dozen marines knelt behind the forward port and starboard gunnels.
“They are about 1500 yards off and closing at three or four knots,” Rhinehart said, telescope to his eye.
“Can you see any deck activity?” Jason asked. They were standing at the stern with Nick McSwain and Sam Lewis.
“Lookout,” Lewis hailed a young sailor high overhead, who had tied himself to the main mast at the height of the royal. “What can you see?”
With his own telescope, and the advantage of a hundred feet in the air, the observer called down, “They’re both flying the Jolly Roger and runnin’ out their guns.”
“Well, that’s plain enough. We’ve got a fight on our hands,” Nick McSwain said.
“Where’s that navy sloop, where’s Case?” Rhinehart asked nervously.
“West of us and the wind is coming from the east,” Sam Lewis said. “We’re on our own for today.”
“John,” Jason said to Rhinehart, “On your Bluebird, we scared off Jack Carney with just a gallon of kerosene and a helluva lot of bravado. Now, look down on the main deck of this ship. We’ve got armed men willing to fight, and modern artillery.”
“Ja.” Rhinehart nodded pointing south. “But they seem very eager also.”
“Yes, they do. Let’s see what we can do about that.”
“Chief,” Jason addressed Lewis, “you’re with me.” And Jason walked forward and down to the main deck, to stand next to Pip, who was in charge of turret number two, with Miles doing his loading. “C’mon forward, Pip. Let’s observe how the Royal Navy makes use of a Pike Ltd. cannon.”
“Yes, sir, of course,” Pip said happily.
“Looks like the long wait is over,” Jason said as they walked past Wales, Craig, and their squad. They both nodded. “Good luck, men,” Jason said to the marines. “If I had it to do over again, I would have joined the marines rather than the cavalry back in 1861. Those damn horses,” Jason said, rubbing his backside, as he climbed the short steps to the forecastle.
“Lieutenant Mackenzie, will you please sink that schooner,” Jason said loud enough for all to hear, and the men chuckled in good spirit.
“I was going to fire at a thousand yards, sir.”
Jason glanced at Pip, who nodded agreement, and Jason said to the Scotsman , “Very well. Have a cigar, Mackenzie.”
“She’ll change tack shortly and we’ll engage in about fifteen minutes.” Mackenzie took a small penknife from his pocket and meticulously cut a wedge from the end of the cigar.
“This is quite exciting,” Mackenzie said. “But I’m not looking forward to it.”
“Like going gambling, even though you know you’ll probably lose?” Jason asked.
“No, worse. It’s a strange, dark excitement, almost sexual, like the desire to be with a woman of very low character.”
“You British always feel guilty about that kind of thing.” Jason’s own American body tingled all over with a lusty, grim anticipation. It started in his testicles and traveled up the spine to the back of his neck.
“What do you intend to aim at?” Pip asked, apparently somewhat embarrassed, Jason noticed, by Mackenzie’s honesty.
“Her port bow will be toward us. I’ll shoot for the waterline.”
Jason turned to Sam Lewis and asked, “The range of their old smooth-bore guns is six hundred yards?”
“Aye.” He nodded.
“Fire on the Detroit at a thousand yards. I think they both will move off, but if the Raven chooses, let her close to six hundred yards. We’ll swing the Sweet Pea around and engage the Raven with both guns. We might end this confrontation this afternoon,” Jason said confidently.
“Oh. Bloody good for us. We’re setting a trap,” Pip said with an exuberant smile, and they all stared at him.
At a thousand yards, Miles turned the breech handle and loaded a live round. A young sailor worked the vertical and horizontal gears to aim the gun, as Mackenzie directed from behind the long brass barrel.
“Fire,” he said, and Miles jerked the lanyard, releasing a coiled spring, which rammed the firing pin into the primer at the rear of the shell. The report was loud and sharp. The gun recoiled, Miles opened the breech, a smoking brass shell fell out to the deck, and he fed another round into the breech.
“A little short and to port,” the spotter called. Three more shots and Mackenzie put a hole in the Detroit’s bow.
She came about and fired a gun to test the range. The shot fell short, and both ships decided to turn away. Carney’s small squadron anchored about two miles off in the shallows, east of the Sweet Pea.
“Mr. Wales, Mr. Mackenzie, Sergeant Craig, Chief Lewis would you join me for dinner tonight in the chart room one hour prior to sunset? Keep your men busy this afternoon,” Jason said.
Jason dropped down into the forward hold to talk to Harry. “They won’t attack in a mindless charge against our long-range guns.”
Harry smiled. “Did you actually think they would?”
“Not really. But, those Southerners love comin’ up the middle. Lee sent Pickett’s division and two more from A. P. Hill’s Corps, fifteen thousand men, at the center of our line at Gettysburg.”
“Jase, Carney’s men will question suicidal orders a lot more then Bobby Lee’s army did. Thieves are practical men, like politicians, not foolish patriots.”
“The pirates will be back tonight. There’s no moon. Let the boiler die down; we don’t need it this afternoon. Dinner an hour before sunset, just the officers and noncoms,” Jason said and Harry nodded.
“Well, gentlemen, suggestions?” Jason requested, after a cold supper. For dessert, they were having Havana cigars, small glasses of dark Jamaican rum, and a tactical discussion. “When will they come?”
“They’ll attack just before dawn,” Sam Lewis said.
“Midnight is when I’d do it,” Harry suggested.
“Just after sunset, in a few minutes,” Craig reasoned. “They know we’ll all be sitting here talking out the matter.” The chief and the sergeants had spoken. Jason looked at the two lieutenants.
“Let’s put out two boats to circle the ship during the night,” Wales said. “Dangerous work, but we do need to be warned when they come for us.”
“I can’t depress our guns to fire on closely approaching longboats,” Mackenzie admitted. “But we will be ready with grapeshot if they choose to close the range with either ship. We’ll fire at their cannon flashes.”
Jason stood up and paced around the table rubbing his chin. “Chief, put two boats over the side and ask for volunteers. I’ll brief them on the main deck in fifteen minutes. Gentlemen, I’m sorry we can’t spend the evening finishing off this bottle of rum, but unfortunately, we all have more serious duties to attend to.”
Jack Carney stood alone on the stern of the Raven. The night was inky dark, and the only sound was the slight creaking of the ship’s strained rigging. Nick Dicone, who had replaced Alvarez as first officer, commanded the port side gun crews. Dicone was a short swarthy, heavy-set man with black, curly hair and a crooked nose. Despite his tro llish appearance, the men liked him; and, more important, they followed his orders.
Carney was counting on getting as close as he could and taking the Sweet Pea by surprise with a broadside from the port side battery. Stogger was supposed to bring the Detroit around the other side, but Carney doubted the big soldier-turned-sailor could manage a coordinated attack during this black, windless night.
The Raven’s cannons were no good for a long-distance shooting contest. Carney had to close and fire with double grapeshot loads. He paced the stern wondering what his hero, Jean Lafitte, would do right now. His ship was named for Lafite’s Raven and Carney, in his own convoluted way, saw himself as an American patriot and a hero like Lafitte. Carney felt his cause was just, and he wanted the gold and silver more than ever before. He tried to imagine what it all looked like, when, earlier, he had studied how low and steady the Sweet Pea rode in the open sea. They certainly aren’t diving for sponges, he decided.
At two in the morning, when the Sweet Pea’s crew were all tired and dozing, Carney’s men, swimming quietly swamped one of the guard boats and knifed a sailor. The other sailor swam back to the Sweet Pea sounding the alarm.
“Chief, hands to the capstan. Lets move us a ship’s length astern, quietly lads,” Jason ordered in a whisper, making use of a kedge anchor set north of their position.
But the ship was very heavy and it was slow work moving her manually, even just a hundred feet. A broadside boomed from the west. Jason just saw the cannon flashes, when the screams and splinters were amongst them. It had been ten years since an enemy fired artillery at Jason; it was still terrifying.
“Turret number one, ready to fire on gun flashes.”
“Turret number two, ready.”
“Fire!” Jason shouted. Both guns fired repeatedly.
They heard screams and cries of agony from the Raven, but could see none of the assumed damage their barrage caused. Then the seas were quiet as Carney moved off. Mackenzie sent a small boat to follow the retreating Raven and make sure they were gone. The first fight with the pirates had been short and brutal.
Jason went below to help Addie and Sarah with their wounded. They had four injured men, and there was the missing sailor that had been in one of the watch boats. Addie and Sarah were working on a marine as two others held him down. They cut wood splinters from his left cheek, eye, and scalp. He screamed and Addie tried to get him to drink a dose of laudanum. Half his face was ripped to bloody shreds; and, mercifully, he passed out, just as Addie was about to remove the jagged splinter embedded in his shattered left eye. The other three men only had minor injuries.
The next morning Jason gave orders to Mackenzie and Craig. “After sunset, we’ll put a longboat over the side with the carronades mounted in the bow and crewed by a rifle squad. I want you two to quietly find the Raven, probably while Carney is sneaking up on us. Approach her stern, fire at the waterline, and use your rifles against her deck crew. Then withdraw, before they can bring any guns to bear on you.”
Just after midnight Jason could hear the cannon shots, putting small holes in the Raven and Carney was forced to move the ship north of Stone Atoll, presumably to make repairs to his old schooner. Mackenzie and Craig’s raid had succeeded.
Before dawn Carney, Stogger, and Nick Dicone took a dory ashore to the atoll and looked around. “That was a neat, little ambush they pulled on us,” Dicone said, with grudging admiration.
“Yes, a lovely surprise in the middle of the night,” Stogger commented, in a sarcastically, dry British manner.
“The hell with both of you,” Carney said disgusted, and walked south to the other side of the narrow atoll.
Dicone and Stogger followed, until they were all standing on the beach, looking out to where they knew the Sweet Pea was anchored. “I want to move two of the Detroit’s guns right here and set up a battery protected by a sand barricade,” Nick Dicone explained. “By doing so, we’ll force them to move. Once they are loose from their anchors, you should be able to position the Raven to pound their stern; strike their blind side, where they can’t shoot at you with those persistent, little accurate guns they have.”
Carney nodded. “Sounds like it might work. I don’t have a better plan.”
“Why guns off my ship?” Stogger questioned.
“Why not? You aren’t doing anything with them now,” Carney said, his acrid tone quite obvious. Stogger never did get his ship in position to fight two nights ago, or last night either.
“I’ll come aboard and organize the work crews,” Dicone said. “We’ll rig a cargo boom to lower the guns, and I’ll need fifteen men to build the barrier and crew the cannons.”
“Who is to command this battery?” Stogger asked, not at all happy.
“You, sir,” Dicone said. “They’re your men.”
“And suppose, once we start shooting at them, Jason Pike sends landing parties ashore around our flanks?” Stogger asked.
“Then you’ll be a soldier again,” Carney said, glancing at the absurd broadsword the old mercenary still wore.
That same morning was quiet at dawn. Jason looked north toward Stone Atoll with a telescope. The tops of the Raven and Detroit, anchored on the lee side, were visible. “I’ll go on over there and take a look, if ya want, Captain,” Miles offered with careless, youthful abandon.
“You anxious to get shot at?” Jason asked.
“I’m a good swimmer. This is my kind of job; I’ll go. You do want to know what they’re doing?”
“Yes,” Jason said reluctantly. “But I don’t want to get you killed.” `Too’, Jason almost added, thinking about Miles’ father, John Asbury. “Inform Sergeant Craig I’m sending you to reconnoiter the atoll, and ask him if he’ll lend a strong swimmer to go with you. It’s a two-man job.”
“I want Johnny Rice to come with me,” Miles blurted.
“The kid from Five Points, the New York Slums?” Jason was surprised. “Can he swim?”
“Johnny swims real good. He says they got a big, dirty, cold river up there in New York.”
Jason nodded. “All right, get your marine and report back to me for specific instructions.”
Two hours later, the waterlogged scouts climbed back aboard. “They’ve got boats over the side and are lowering supplies from the Detroit,” Miles reported.
“And they’re rigging a cargo boom off the mast,” Rice added.
“They’re up to something. We’ll do this again later.” Jason decided.
Just after sunset, Sergeant Craig swam ashore to observe. “The pirates are setting up a battery on the atoll,” Craig said, when he got back. “They waited until it was dark. Now they are throwing up a redoubt to protect two guns.”
“Did you see two cannons?” Jason asked.
“I saw them bringing one ashore, and the breastwork they were piling up was large enough for two. That’s it, Captain.”
“We’ll have to abandon the wreck site, if they can control this area with a shore-based battery,” Mackenzie pointed out. “Our guns cannot reduce a sturdy barricade of packed sand.”
Pip nodded sadly. “Our prototype rounds are solid shot. They punch small holes and would only burrow into, and not explode, a sand barrier.”
“How many men did you see working?” Jason asked.
“About a dozen,” Craig guessed.
“No. But I saw weapons.” Craig rubbed his chin whiskers. “They had rifles and several swords piled next to their supplies.”
“Crawford,” Jason addressed Wales, “get half your marines to volunteer. We’ll swim ashore just before dawn, when they will be almost finished and probably very tired. Craig, you mind getting wet again?”
He shrugged. “Comes with the job.”
“Rhinehart, I want a small raft to float our weapons ashore. Have McSwain build it.” He nodded and Jason saw how bloodshot his eyes were. The fighting had unnerved Rhinehart and he was drinking regularly. Jason didn’t need him to fight, or, at this stage of the game, run the ship; so he didn’t particularly care if Rhinehart chose to hide in a bottle.
“Crawford, we’ll need your best, young and fierce armed with knives and pistols. We’ll swim ashore, circle the atoll, and assault Carney’s battery from the rear.”
Then Jason turned to Harry. “You’re in charge here.” And Harry started to protest. “You’re too old and too big for this job. Besides, we all need you on the Sweet Pea.”
Harry looked all around in consternation. “You better stay here, Pappy,” Addie added. He pulled his Bowie knife from his belt and handed it to Jason. “You should take this with you.”
An hour before dawn, Jason slipped over the side along with Wales, Craig, and five marines. The square four-foot raft holding their weapons was lowered to them; and they all quietly did a slow breast stroke ashore pulling the raft behind. “Silence is the only rule,” Jason said, as they approached the atoll.
Jason led them to the shore at the extreme western end of the tiny island, and stealthfully they made their way back east, in the waist deep surf, parallel to the north-facing beach. Now they were behind the pirates building their fortification facing south against the anchorage, where the Sweet Pea dominated the wreck site.
As they advanced in the surf, Jason whispered, “If you have to cough, sneeze, belch, or fart, do it underwater.” There was a tiny, new crescent moon and clear sky tonight, so Jason motioned a halt in the slow, cautious approach, when they came upon a longboat unloading supplies.
The Raven and Detroit were at anchor two hundred yards north of the atoll. “We wait here until the ship’s boat pulls away,” Jason whispered. “Then we sneak ashore and rush the battery from the rear. We’ll do it in two groups of four. Polak, Dawson, Ribbens, you’re with me.” Jason motioned Rice and Ballentine, to go with Wales and Craig. “Five yards between the two groups so we support each other, and stay together; each group must fight as a team.”
Finally, the pirate boat returned to the Raven. “No one moves or makes a sound, except when I command,” Jason said. “When we get close and they see us, I’ll yell ‘attack’ and you charge. Run very fast until we are amongst them; and then, kill them quickly. Use your pistols for chest shots, and knives for thrusts just under the breastbone, and up, or slice the throat swift, and deep. ” Jason ordered. The marines nodded, accepting his deadly directive.
Jason waited until a rare cloud hid the moon’s tiny light, and they ran ashore with pistols and knives ready, taking shelter in the slight sand drifts of the atoll. Jason could hear the pirates digging steadily and crawled to the top of the bluff, looking down on their effort at erecting a shore battery. They had two six-pounders in place, and twelve men were still digging to construct a redoubt to protect the guns. Jason looked back and motioned to Wales and the others. His three men joined him, and Wales brought his squad up to the top of the slight sand bluff, just east of Jason’s group. Wales examined the operation and glanced at Jason.
“Follow me, low and quiet, until they see us,” he whispered and led them over the crest. Jason yelled, “Attack,” when the first pirate saw them. Jason ran forward until three more men saw him; then he stopped to fire four shots into the four pirates who turned to face the assault. The marines charged down the slight, sandy slope and fired their pistols into the pirates. In an instant, the marines were in a melee of swinging knives and pistols.
After his gun was empty Jason confronted a pirate with a knife and dodged a swipe at his stomach, but punched the pirate, and jabbed Harry’s Bowie knife into the man’s belly, trying to cut deep. The pirate dropped to his knees as a flood of intestine and part of his stomach spilled out onto the sand. He screamed and pitched forward, squirming, trying to hold his guts in place as he died.
The fight was fierce and bloody, but short. Caught by surprise, the pirates were either killed quickly, or ran off before they could reach their weapons. Craig came up next to Jason. “We’ve got two wounded, one badly.”
“Tight bandages. We can’t have them bleeding, as we tow them back to the ship. Crawford, have your men spike the guns with wet sand, and let’s get the hell out of here.”
Jason walked north up the slight rise, while loading his Colt, and could just make out a longboat from the Raven starting to hurry ashore. He ran back to where the marines were tying lanyards to the fuses of the cannons. The marines blew up the guns, then walked into the surf to swim south, to the Sweet Pea.
Ninety miles away Captain Croft felt his patience draining rapidly. The Hercules was still hung up in a sand bank and Croft’s instincts, his sixth sense, told him to get moving. Unfortunately four boats crewed by 120 sweating sailors couldn’t budge the Hercules.
“What next, Mr. Wimpole?” Croft was standing with his second officer on the quarterdeck.
“Shifting the ballast, sir.”
“We’re aground amidships. We’re trying to pull her off by the stern. If you lighten the stern at the expense of the bow, the weight will still press the paddles into the sand. And if you move the weight aft, the stern will be floating lower and heavier, harder still for the tow boats. Where do you propose to move it to?”
“Let’s throw it overboard, nothing but granite rock. That’s Marathon Key,” Wimpole pointed north. “I see beaches up there. We can replace the ballast with sand bags. We have several thousand hemp sacks aboard, sir.”
Croft nodded. “I’m impressed. Perhaps there is hope for you, lieutenant. Jettisoning the ballast and replacing it is a time consuming process. It’s a last resort option.”
“Isn’t that our current situation?” Wimpole asked.
Croft was watching Lieutenant Frye, as he walked back and forth from the port side paddle wheel to its mate starboard. Frye was scratching his chin and Croft knew, at least, the cognitive wheels in Frye’s head were turning. He smiled and said to Wimpole, “I’m damned, if he doesn’t have a bee in his bonnet. Frye will be up here in about thirty seconds with an idea.”
Wimpole was relieved. “Frye has a very keen mind, sir.”
Croft was slightly wrong this time. “Sir, can you come down here?” Frye called from the main deck.
“Coming Number One.” Croft motioned for Wimpole to follow.
“Sir, I want to use the ship’s pumps to blow the sand out of the paddle wheels. If we place the end of the exhaust hose directly over the sand clogging the paddles, the force of the water should disperse the sand.”
Slowly, a beaming smile broke across Croft’s usually hard countenance. “John,” Croft used Frye’s Christian name; for Croft this was the ultimate compliment he ever paid a lieutenant in his command. “Go ahead, rig up the pumps.”
After several hours of forced water dredging on the bottoms of both paddle wheels, the Hercules’ longboats finally dragged their mother ship to open water.
“Mr. Frye,” Croft gave orders, “Recover our boats. I want us back on course before I sit down to dinner tonight. Lieutenant Wimpole, stay here and watch how Frye carries out my orders.”
As Croft walked back to the quarterdeck he heard young Conners’ shrill Cockney voice, “Wimpal, ya lucked out this time, ya silly sod.”
“Shut up, you rodent, or I’ll give you to the crew to bop your sweet, little white bum good and proper,” Wimpole whipped back. Croft nodded, completely satisfied with the resolution of “The grounding incident off Marathon Key”, as he titled the page in Hercules’ log.
The next night heavy clouds drifted in front of the tiny crescent moon. Jason was having a smoke with Harry at the stern, when he heard the soft sound of oars moving ever so slowly, and turned to see the outline of two boats full of men rowing toward the rear of the Sweet Pea. Jason sent Harry forward to get the marines, asleep in the fo’c’sle. Then, concerned about Addie and Sarah below, he dashed down the companionway, through the chart room, into their cabin, and bolted the door.
“Get your pistols, ladies, your guns, right now.” They both had dozed off on the big, fold-out bed. “Your weapons, now,” Jason stressed again, as Addie and Sarah sat up.
Then something caught his eye on the gallery. There were grappling hooks hanging from the railing. “Watch the door,” Jason said, and ran to the gallery, peering over the side. There, lying silently in the water, was a longboat with a dozen of Carney’s crew. One pirate was halfway up the rope, and his head was just level with the deck. Since the spaces were wide enough between the pickets supporting the railing, Jason kicked him in the face. His nose bloody and smashed, he screamed and fell down into the boat. Then a bullet chipped the rail and Jason stood back and glanced behind, into the cabin.
Pirates had climbed aboard the stern and forced the door, but Sarah and Addie were both firing their pistols into the open doorway. Good, he thought, because they were defending themselves; and bad, that he was occupied and could not help them. Jason took a wood match from his pocket, stuck it between his teeth, and reached for a carronade. After hefting it out of it’s window mount with both arms, he stepped to, and rested the heavy iron on the rail, struck the match, and held the gun almost vertically, by the pommel. Jason lit the tiny fuse, but it wouldn’t catch. Wet, he guessed. Meanwhile the pirates were ducking down and firing at Jason.
And there were more gunshots from behind. He knew he had to get to the women. “Aw hell!” Jason lifted the little cannon up and threw the damn thing down onto the men in the boat. The carronade bashed one pirate in the face and chest, before tearing into the boat’s bottom. It got stuck there, and water bubbled up around it like a fountain. The heavy little boat started to sink, and the pirates had to swim for it. Jason threw the grappling hooks over the side and ran into the cabin.
Sarah and Addie were standing, facing the entrance, the smoke from their guns just starting to dissipate as a gust of salty wind rushed through. They both were staring blankly at the pile of bodies in the hatchway. Jason saw Harry and Craig carefully approaching, down the companionway, from the other side of the mayhem.
“Up on deck, sergeant. Pirates swimming astern,” Jason directed. Craig nodded, and left. Harry walked up to the dead bodies stacked in the doorway. There were four, Jason counted, piled one on top of each other in the narrow passageway.
Sarah stepped forward and touched blood from the shoulder exit wound of the body on top. “I did this. I never killed anyone before.” She was stiff and pale, shocked at what she had done.
Then there was a slight groan, and the pile of bodies jerked spasmodically. Sarah screamed and flinched backward. “Harry,” Jason barked sharply and pushed Sarah aside, going to the doorway of dead men, looking for one that was still alive. Harry helped Jason move the bodies aside, until they reached the man on the deck. He was shot once, through the thigh, and then buried by three others.
“Dear God, please help me,” the pirate begged.
“Don’t invoke the Deity’s name for your miserable sake, you villain!” Sarah scolded, and her nostrils flared. “And you smell bad too.” Harry and Jason turned him over to a couple of sailors, and Sarah bandaged the hole in his leg.
Jason looked around to see where Addie was and saw her standing alone on the gallery. “Are you all right?” he asked, coming up behind her.
“I don’t know. Sarah shot the first one who came at us. The second one, I looked into his eyes, when I killed him. And I shot another too,” she said, looking blankly down at the pistol she held in her right hand. “It was so easy to do, when I saw them coming for me.” She held the gun out over the sea, and Jason took it from her before she dropped it. Then Addie started to cry and fell into Jason’s waiting arms.
“So what’s next?” Stogger asked Carney.
Up on the Raven’s deck, both crews were debating, sometimes quite loudly, their captains’ fates, while they waited below in Carney’s cabin.
“You mean, if they don’t hang us or shoot us,” Carney said, sitting at his desk. He poured them both a drink from a bottle of Virgin Islands rum.
Stogger nodded apprehensively. “Elections,” Carney answered flatly.
“Yes. And they’ll put you and me in a small boat and set us adrift. We’re suppose to die quietly, accepting our fate as failed leaders.”
“That’s not at all how I expected things to turn out,” Stogger confessed, “when you recruited me at Ocho Rios a couple months ago.”
Carney listened to the arguments going on above and said, “I guess life is not very fair. If you need to make your peace with God, now might be a good time.” Carney drank.
Two hours later Nick Dicone and a delegation from the crew came to confront Carney and Stogger, both of whom were half in the bag by then.
“We never got to voting. Actually, what it came down to,” Dicone decided to reveal, “is that the crews broke up into factions that couldn’t agree on new leaders. So you two still have your jobs under these new articles.” Dicone handed Stogger a paper. “The articles call for an attack tomorrow morning, both ships. It’s all or nothing from here on. Too many have died to just sail away, and the men want to finish it.” Dicone poured drinks for himself and the others.
Carney nodded. “Well, let’s plan an attack that will succeed.”
The next morning, the Raven came around Stone Atoll and closed on the Sweet Pea from the east, undaunted by the bright morning sun. And she came alone, no sign of the Detroit.
Jason was standing on the forecastle with Pip and Mackenzie. “Attacking in full daylight. And the wind is brisk from the northeast. I think they’re quite serious this time,” Mackenzie said softly.
“Bloody well,” Pip offered, “I’m getting tired of Jack Carney, and living on a ship isn’t at all as pleasant as I thought it might be. I miss cold, damp, foggy but firm England, and want to go home.” Then Pip angrily said, “Let’s finish off the cheeky bugger once and for all.”
Addie came to stand next to Jason, took his hand, and put her head on his shoulder. Her hair lightly brushed the back of his neck as the wind blew it about. Jason tried not to be consumed by her presence, as he watched the enemy. “I don’t think it will be quite that simple,” she said. Addie stared fatalistically at the oncoming ship. “This treasure will cost us more than just your money, Jase,” she whispered into his ear. “We’ll have to live with the responsibility of those we kill and those who die in our service, for the rest of our lives.”
“Only volunteers on this ship, Addie, you and Sarah at the head of the list.”
“I wasn’t going to let you and Pappy do this without me, and Sarah has her own reasons for being here.”
“You better get below. It’ll be starting soon.” Jason kissed her cheek, and she tried to smile. “Keep your pistol handy,” Jason added.
“Rhinehart, where’s Rhinehart?” Jason asked.
“I believe he’s not feeling well, sleeping,” Harry explained.
“I imagine being in the middle of a battle will wake him up. Mr. Mackenzie, Pip, to your guns. Gentlemen, fire on the enemy at your own discretion,” Jason said.
“Lieutenant Wales, deploy your men as you see fit. Chief Lewis, you keep your gang in the fo’c’sle. You’re the reserve. Come very fast, when I tell you where I need you.” They all nodded and moved to their tasks.
Mackenzie’s number one turret fired first. The explosion of the charge was sharp and piercing. Smoke hung at the muzzle for only a second, as the cannon recoiled and then came back along its track. Jason used the telescope to look off the port beam at the Raven, and marked the waterspout that popped up from the sea just off her starboard bow.
“She’s in range,” he said.
Mackenzie knelt down behind the gun aiming carefully. The crew all watched anxiously, and finally he said, “Fire on the crest,” and he jerked the lanyard a second later, when the ship’s keel was riding the top of a wave.
The gun boomed and recoiled. The shot impacted the Raven’s bow, and Jason could see the hole near her waterline through the telescope. The marines cheered. But Pip’s solid shot only made small holes, easily patched–even if temporarily–while under way. My goof, Jason thought. Damn. He knew he should have specified explosive charges for their cannons.
The Raven approached and the English rifled guns pounded her repeatedly, until she listed on her starboard side but the Raven still came on, the wind pushing her directly at the Sweet Pea. Carney’s crew delivered intermittent rifle fire, as he kept trying to close the range for his smooth-bore cannons to be effective. Finally the Raven was near enough, and Carney turned for a broadside. The Raven’s guns fired a deadly fusillade of solid and grapeshot.
Turret number two blew up. Scalding oil from the gun’s recoil tubes, as well as metal splinters, devastated the gun crew. Miles Asbury died instantly. The tall muscular teenager was torn apart by shrapnel, leaving only a bloody, chewed-up torso, that twitched on the deck for a few tortured seconds.
Then Jason heard Pip screaming. He was sitting against the gunnel shrieking, his whole body shaking. Pip was horribly burned on his face, chest, and arms. Jason ran over, grabbed him up, and carried him down the companionway to Addie’s sickbay.
“Adrian,” he said abruptly, “I need you right now.”
Her eyes went wide when she saw Pip’s condition. “Oh, my God! Poor Pip. Put him on the table. We have to get his clothes off. See if you can get him to drink some laudanum.”
Jason helped Addie with Pip for several minutes, then he looked up, and right into her eyes. “I have to get back up on deck.” She nodded; she knew.
On deck, Jason saw the Raven was breaking off her attack. “A cannon is loose on her,” the lookout called.
Carney heard a man scream and looked to the bow. The first cannon on the port side had lurched to the side, crushing a seaman’s foot under a rear wheel. Then it ripped free and ran loose. The Raven was pitching up and down, cutting through the waves, driven by a stiff wind the pirates were counting on to quickly close with the Sweet Pea.
“Oh shit,” Carney muttered.
Jason got a telescope and climbed up the mainmast stays, a dozen feet above the deck. One of Carney’s carriage-mounted cannons had torn loose and was running free on the Raven. The heavy iron gun pitched forward and ran down the deck. Jason watched, as it mowed over one sailor, and another leaped out of the way.
“Those poor bastards,” Craig said. “That loose cannon is the Devil himself. An unpredictable menace, it could demolish the main deck of the schooner.”
Jason looked at his main deck and saw the marines watching the drama on the Raven. “That cannon is like cavalry in the enemy’s rear. Please lend some support.”
“Start shooting, men,” Craig ordered. So the marines added to the predicament of the Raven’s crew. The cannon continued to roam the Raven, kill it’s sailors, and destroy equipment. Then, finally the gun bolted directly at the side of the schooner, busted through the gunnel, and dropped into the sea.
Jason climbed down to the deck, and went back to the infirmary to be with Pip. It would be a couple moments before Carney could continue the attack.
“I can’t see,” Pip screamed. His eyes were burned away.
“But, I don’t feel anything . . .” he said, his nervous system overloaded from the massive burns. “The pneumatic tubes exploded. The fluid expanded because of heat from the tropical sun,” Pip cried. Jason forced him to swallow several gulps of laudanum. “I did the rapid fire tests in Scotland during the spring. No consideration to the Caribbean sun. Tell them a bleed valve for decreasing hydraulic fluid pressure is needed . . . and a shield; we could have mounted an armor plate shield on the stationary turret. I’m going to die. Aren’t I? I’m burned all over . . . blinded . . . and . . . and killed by my own bloody cannon. Oh well; back to the drawing board. I’m very numb now, I can’t feel anything at all. Sweet Jesus, please accept my soul into your father’s kingdom. My mother, you’ll write my mother, Mr. Pike?”
“Yes, Pip. Drink this,” and Jason poured more laudanum into Pip. He looked dreadful and was dying quickly. “Pip, I think your gun was hit by one of Carney’s cannon. You wait here, and I’ll go and take a look.”
Pip had calmed as the opiate made his mind fuzzy. “Oh, that would be nice. I’m going to die. I have to accept the reality of this situation. More opium, please.”
Jason went back up on deck and found bedlam. Having recovered, the Raven was closing and battering the Sweet Pea with continued loads of grape and solid shot from her guns. The marines were staying low behind the gunnel’s protection and firing occasionally. Sam Lewis’ sailors were below in the fo’c’sle. Mackenzie and Nolan had abandoned turret number one, after Pip’s gun blew up, and Jason was not going to order them back. Jason quickly examined the cannon and it was very hot. The recoil tube seals were stretched and leaking hot oil.
He crouched, and worked his way over to Wales and Mackenzie on the port side. “They’re getting ready with grappling hooks,” Mackenzie reported. He looked at Jason with painful eyes, not needing to ask about Pip’s condition. Then Jason glanced at Nolan and saw tears on his cheeks, his face a mix of sorrow and determination.
“We’re all of a mind to settle the matter at close quarters,” Wales said. Craig nodded agreement. Jason glanced around and Harry was right next to him with his shotgun. His rugged features indicated dogged resolution.
“I know. We’ll fight,” Jason said. “Sergeant, hands to deliver grappling hooks to the Raven.” Jason looked at the marines. “They’re coming for us, and we’ll take them.”
“Aye,” Craig said.
Jason looked about, wondering where the Detroit was. Could Stogger have decided to pull out? The sea was clear all around, except for the daily, morning rain squall coming from the west.
The ships came together with a crash, and the light Raven rose up as her starboard bow hit, and splintered against the port side of the heavy Sweet Pea. No one was in charge now, not Jason or Carney. A battle’s momentum sometimes develops a life and character of its own; and its eager and efficient purpose is to deliver death to as many as possible. And yet they all leaped within the range of death’s hungry grasp with hasty and deliberate abandon.
Jason jumped up and fanned three shots into the first pirates he saw and dropped down while their riflemen fired at him. The marines raked their deck with deadly fire covering Jason and sending the pirates back along the main deck to the Raven’s stern.
Jason raised his arm in a circling motion and shouted, “Let’s show `em what we’re made of; follow me!” With a dozen men, he boarded the Raven’s bow and they advanced aft, but strangely there was little resistance. Then Jason saw why: the black muzzle of a cannon hidden by crates, on the stern pointed right at them, and most of Carney’s crew was crouched right there. Carney lighted the fuse.
“Get down,” Jason shouted to his men, dropping himself, just as the gun fired. The air was filled with smoke and screams. Immediately part of Jason’s posterior hurt painfully. He felt down there and found a nasty two-inch splinter stuck in his left buttock.
Then Carney’s men yelled and charged. Jason jumped up shooting, emptying his pistol; Harry’s shotgun boomed, tearing up the first echelon and breaking the impetus of their assault. In an instant they had shot down five men, and the brigands lay dying and bleeding on the Raven’s deck.
Jason looked around at his boarding party, and saw half were dead or badly injured. The others retreated with the wounded, including a severely mangled Nolan. He looked like he was cut in half–eviscerated–and left a quart of blood on the Raven’s deck, after two marines picked him up to retreat to the Sweet Pea..
Back on the Sweet Pea, Jason split his force so the wounded could be taken aft, but they were under fire from sharpshooters on the Raven. “Take the wounded below, down to the fo’c’sle, and aft through the holds,” Jason ordered.
Then Jason saw the Detroit just off to the west, coming out of the squall and right toward their starboard side. He tapped Harry’s shoulder and pointed.
“Damn,” Harry said slowly. The Detroit was close, and they had no time to move the Sweet Pea.
The Detroit rammed the starboard bow and Stogger’s crew threw grappling hooks to tie the ships together. Jason’s group was pinned down and burdened with empty pistols. “My God, they bloody-well have us now,” Mackenzie said, stuffing cartridges in his big Adams revolver.
Jason was concerned about Carney’s men rallying and coming at their backs, while he led the marines against Stogger’s crew. “Chief Lewis, take your squad to the port side bow prepared to repel boarders,” Jason directed. Sailors poured up out of the fo’c’sle eager to see what was going on, but not at all happy when pirates started to shoot at them from both the Raven and the Detroit.
Rhinehart came up the companionway, and Jason saw the German Captain noticed that Jason’s group was reloading, while Stogger’s men climbed over the bow’s starboard gunnel. Rhinehart nodded at Jason and sneered with blood-shot eyes at Carney’s men, staggered and grabbed the railing for support. Then the drunk German did something totally amazing.
“Hinunter von meinem Schiff, ihr Schurken,” Rhinehart yelled and charged like a mad buffalo. His sturdy, rotund figure pounded across the main deck. He was firing a pistol and swinging his rusted sword when he got in amongst the boarders. Rhinehart lunged at one pirate too slowly. The man dodged to the right and counter swiped underhanded with a rapier. The sword tip just cut into Rhinehart’s large belly, but the pirate lunged forward driving the blade deep, ripping the sword out to the center of his stomach. Rhinehart dropped his own sword to hold his middle with his left hand, staggered back a step, then seemed to get his balance, and shot the pirate twice in the chest. Then Rhinehart pitched forward to the deck, screaming as his soft, wet guts came spilling out the long slash–half his stomach with breakfast sausage, and ample amounts of bourbon and bile.
But Rhinehart’s intoxicated sacrifice had bought Jason’s squad the precious seconds they needed to reload. The pirates came on, but Jason nodded to Harry, Wales, Mackenzie, and Craig–all that was left of the assault group. They fired their pistols and rushed the gunnel shooting and forcing Stogger’s men to fall back.
Nick McSwain came up from the main hold with a fishing knife, jumped on the gunnel railings, and started to cut the grappling lines. Jason reached up to grab the brave fool, but was too late. A marksman on the Detroit shot McSwain through the throat, and the old sail maker fell into Jason’s arms, blood squirting from the severed artery on the side of his neck. McSwain was dead when Jason gently put him down on the deck.
There were more lines that needed to be cut before they could push the Detroit off, but to reach up and over the gunnels to get at the lines was suicide, with Stogger’s riflemen firing at them. Jason looked behind to see Sam Lewis, with several of his men, holding the starboard side against Carney’s crew.
Then one of Lewis’ men came up from the fo’c’sle with two hatchets and tossed one to Craig, before going to join Lewis. “I’ll do it,” Jason said, reaching for the hand axe.
“No. You’re too good with your Colt pistol. Get loaded and cover me,” Craig responded.
They all jumped up together; Craig chopped at the grappling lines, and the rest fired at the pirates to keep their guns down. As best they tried to cover Craig, one of Stogger’s men managed to shoot the marine in the shoulder, and he fell from the ship’s railing. Wales pulled his sergeant into the gunnel away from the open deck. Craig had severed three lines, and there was only one more left to cut.
Jason grabbed the hatchet and looked at Harry. “Me first. Then together.” Harry nodded. Jason came up, surveyed the Detroit’s deck, fired a single shot at the stern, and dropped back down drawing fire. “They’re behind the cannons on the starboard side.” Then they went up together; Harry shot the men behind the guns, while Jason chopped at the last of the Detroit’s grappling lines. Wales, Harry, and Mackenzie used boat hooks to push the Detroit off, while Jason covered them, repeatedly firing a Winchester rifle.
Wales helped Craig get below; while Jason ran to the port side, where several sailors knelt around their wounded. Sam Lewis was lying on the deck; he was dead, but two of his men were pushing the Raven away with boat hooks.
Jason looked around trying to get a grasp of the situation. He saw Harry running flat out toward the stern. Jason was stuffing cartridges in the Colt, even before he dared to look toward the rear of the Sweet Pea.
Carney’s crew had thrown grappling hooks from the Raven’s stern to the Sweet Pea’s and pulled the ships together again. The pirates were already jumping aboard the quarterdeck.
“I’ll get ‘ em. Addie, Sarah, stay below,” Harry roared, firing his shotgun. Then he dropped it and charged into the midst of Carney’s men, swinging his Bowie knife and firing a pistol.
Harry killed five, before several shot him and others jabbed cutlasses and knives into his thick middle. He howled as they pushed him down to the deck, impaled on their sharp weapons.
Jason finished loading the Colt and raced along the deck, almost falling–the surface slippery with gore–recovering and firing at the pirates.
Then Jason saw Addie coming up the companionway looking toward where Harry lay on the port side. Jason started to shout because she didn’t see the pirate above, and behind her on the quarterdeck.
Addie’s right hand was up to shoot her pistol, when the pirate’s cutlass took it off. One second there was that slender, soft hand with long creative fingers that could draw and paint, caress Jason with Aphrodite’s gentle touch. Instantly, sharp steel had sliced through her flesh and crushed her wrist bones.
Jason stopped, dropped down to one knee, carefully aimed, and shot the man behind Addie, and another kneeling by Harry with a knife at his throat. Then he ran to Addie.
Addie drew her arm back and stared at where her hand had been. Blood squirted rhythmically from the artery severed at her wrist. Her face was white and horrified as she examined the stump of her right arm; her heart still pumping blood to a hand that was gone. Addie started to scream.
Jason grabbed her wrist tightly, cutting off the blood flow, ripped off the left sleeve of her blouse, and hastily tied it as a tourniquet to her forearm. “Can you get below on your own? I have to hold this position. I love you Addie . . . I . . . I. You have to get below!”
“Yes,” Addie said, cradling her right arm against her stomach and wrapping her remaining hand around her middle.
“Watch yourself, Jase,” Mackenzie called from amidships, shooting at Carney’s men who were looking over the gunnel where the ships were joined. Jason jumped over to the port side gunnel, wishing he’d brought the hatchet with him.
“They’re on you, sir,” Mackenzie shouted.
Jason jumped up, shooting the first man he saw come over the gunnel. After Jason fired twice into his chest, the pirate fell on the deck and screamed as he died.
Then Jack Carney was right there, above Jason. He jumped from the railing and fell on top of Jason; both of them down to the deck, knocking the breath from Jason’s chest, and flinging the Colt pistol from his hand. Jason tried to push the big pirate off, but Carney got up by himself and pulled a huge Arkansas toothpick, a knife with a straight double-edged blade, from his belt. “I’m gonna slice you up, Pike.” Growling like a grizzly bear, Carney came at Jason, who slid backwards on the deck, the splinter in his rear stabbing him with sharp pain. Jason was desperately looking around for a weapon.
Sarah Dumont was suddenly standing between Jason and Carney, Harry’s Bowie knife held out in front. Carney ran right into her as he came for Jason; and she plunged the blade in–with both hands–just under his solar plexus, and up into Carney’s chest, before his body knocked her back to fall on Jason, and he rolled to the side. Carney took a step back, and collapsed down to the deck. He stared up at the heavy knife jutting from his middle. Jason knew it was a mortal wound; bright, red blood gushed up out of Carney’s chest; eight inches of sharp steel had cut through lungs, and severed major arteries.
Sarah crawled over to kneel above Carney lying on the deck. “Now, you go right to hell,” Sarah rasped, “where you belong, to burn forever, while the Devil smirks at the evil folly you’ve made of your life.” She wagged her finger at Carney like the Sunday school teacher she used to be not very long ago.
Carney looked around disoriented, while his chest wound bubbled blood and his life force flowed away. He spat, “Bitch,” with his last breath rattling through his throat.
Sarah glared down at Carney’s face. She breathed deep, reached forward grasping the big knife with both hands, and pushed the blade an inch deeper into his chest. Sarah looked at her hands and clothes covered in Carney’s gore; she started crying and fell over to lie on her side, curling up her body in a fetal pose.
Jason found his pistol and reached around his back for ammunition from his gunbelt. Wales, with Corporal Ballentine and Private Rice–what was left of his marines, was up through the main hold hatch. They cut away the Raven’s grappling lines and fired on Carney’s crew on the Raven’s deck, until the pirates stayed undercover and the ships drifted apart.
Jason got up painfully, holding his backside where the splinter ached when he moved, and knelt by Harry. He had multiple stab wounds in his back and stomach, and bullet holes in his chest and shoulder. There was blood dribbling down his chin and seeping from most of his wounds.
Jason picked Harry up by his shoulders and leaned him against a bulkhead. He did this so Harry could spend his last moments looking around at the world, and so he could see their faces. Corporal Ballentine came next with bandages and laudanum. Then Addie was right there and kneeling next to Harry. Her face was chalky, drained of any color, and she was wearing a big white shirt with the right sleeve empty, holding her right arm close to her stomach.
“Oh, father! You went and did it this time.” Her eyes were red and the tears welled up and flowed down Addie’s cheeks. Her shoulders trembled as Addie concealed her own terrible pain, keeping her loss private and deep, away from her dying father. Jason watched Addie’s drawn face and tragic eyes, knowing these brave, these few last excruciating seconds with Harry would be the most sorrowful, and precious memories of his young wife’s entire life.
“It’s good to see ya one last time, lassie. I’ll tell yer mum how proud I am of ya.”
“Daddy,” Addie blubbered and fell on Harry holding him.
Jason grasped his hand. “Jase.” Harry’s voice was distant now. “That was a hell of a war we fought with the Rebs.” He coughed, spitting up blood and lung tissue.
“You were always there, when we all needed you, Harry.” Jason squeezed his friend’s hand for the last time.
Harry tried to smile at Addie. “I love you, lassie.” And he closed his eyes. Harry’s last breath rattled from his lungs and his chest was still. Addie held him and wept.
Then Addie slowly stood up, silently gazing off the stern of the Sweet Pea. “My island in the sun; where’s . . . where’s Big Pine Key?” she whispered. Jason knew Addie was pleading with fate to bring back a simple, a past innocence that was her’s once, but was now lost–like her hand, stolen from her–for all the rest of her time.
It was all too much. Addie collapsed in Jason’s arms, and he carried her to the infirmary. Jason felt relieved she had fainted; he didn’t know what to say to Addie, how to comfort her. Jason knew Addie would blame him for Harry’s death, losing her hand, and this slaughter. Her life had been peace and serenity until Harry found the treasure; and then Jason came to help Harry raise it, and get a lot of Addie’s friends killed in the process.
Jason helped Addie to drink laudanum and put her down on the bed to pass out again. Sarah had tightly bandaged her wrist; and they both hoped her arm did not become diseased.
“Jase, help me with Nolan,” Sarah requested. Nolan Asbury was dying slowly. On the Raven, Carney’s cannon had fired grapeshot at them. Four links of rusty iron chain tore through his stomach and groin. His intestines hung out of the jagged wound, and his genitals had been terribly mutilated. Whatever bandages Sarah tried to apply became blood‑soaked in minutes because Nolan was a strong, young man and his heart continued to pump blood out to a network of arteries where many were cut and broken. He became very chilly, his bluish-pale lips gasping for air. They gave him laudanum, until the opiate and alcohol beverage ran out his severed intestines.
“Now I lay me down to sleep. If I die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take,” he kept saying over and over. “Tell my mother it wasn’t so bad for me. I don’t want to live after seeing . . . without my . . . “ and he started to sob quietly. “I wish Miles hadn’t died; he was my father’s favorite.” Nolan grew weaker, and finally stopped breathing.
“He was his mother’s favorite,” Sarah said as she delicately closed his eyelids.
Jason didn’t have the time to mourn just yet. “Sarah, can you please cut this splinter out of my backside.” Jason dropped his pants and bent over.
“I noticed,” Sarah said, “Drink some laudanum,” and picked up a knife.
“No, I’m not done for the day.”
“Ow!” Jason yelled. Sarah’s treatment was sharp and abrupt, like the splinter.
“I tried to do it as quick as I could,” she drawled sarcastically sympathetic. Like the rest of the crew, Sarah was exhausted and emotionally drained.
“Ah! . . . Ow ! . . . bandage it tight.”
“Yes. I figured that out.”
Jason went back up on deck and looked around. The sailors were firing on the Raven and the Detroit as they moved off. There didn’t seem to be many men left on either privateer, but Jason’s crew was not in much better shape. Aside from Crawford Wales, only two marines, Ballentine and Rice, were not wounded. Only half the sailors were okay and the ship was a mess. She was battered from solid rounds and grapeshot; her decks were sticky and red with her crew’s blood. But the Sweet Pea and the Atocha’s treasure were still theirs. Unfortunately both pirate ships were still afloat, and it was only lunchtime.
Jason put Wales in charge of cleaning up the ship. The infirmary was full of dying and wounded; and he assigned two sailors to help Sarah attend her patients.
Then Jason took Mackenzie below. “I need you to make me a mine.”
“A mine, a waterpro of bomb, an explosive I can attach to the hull of the Raven.”
“A limpet mine?”
“Yes, precisely. Heavy enough to blow a hole in the Raven, yet light enough for me to carry to her.”
“I don’t understand how you can do that.” Mackenzie was perplexed. “A mine needs an underwater fuse which requires a leather casing; and we have none of that aboard.”
“No fuse,” Jason said. “I want you to rig a mechanical trigger I can set off by jerking a lanyard, once I get clear.”
Mackenzie looked at Jason strangely. “I’ve never done anything . . .”
“Lieutenant, just do it!”
Jason went to the infirmary and had to move a couple wounded marines, to dig out the French crate and carried it up on deck. It contained an artificial lung developed in the south of France during the 1860s for dangerous mining work and rescues. This particular machine was adapted for underwater use. It consisted of a barrel-shaped tank, which could be charged with eight liters of air. A round cylinder called a “regulator” perched on top of the air tank. There was a hose and mouthpiece, complete with a nose‑pinch, from the regulator over the shoulder to the front of the head. The machine was attached to a simple backpack unit. Luckily, unlike Addie’s doll kit, this lengthy instruction manual was in French, so Jason did not even attempt to read it.
On deck, Wales watched Jason unpack the device. “The Raven is a thousand yards off,” Wales pointed. “This machine can’t hold enough air for you to get there underwater.”
“She’s anchored just fifty yards from the eastern end of Stone Atoll. We’ll take a small boat around the atoll, keeping it between us and the Raven, and I’ll start from just off the eastern tip.”
“You’re taking a hell of a chance,” Wales said.
“Our only chance,” Jason replied. “I have to do this before the Raven’s crew elects a new captain.” Wales nodded, also knowing all pirates were democrats.
Jason assigned two sailors to work the air pump and fill the artificial lung. Then he had a small boat lowered to the sea and went below to see what Mackenzie was doing about a bomb. Mackenzie had taken an armor plate from the main deck gunnel that had been beaten in by a six-pound ball at close range. Now it looked like a punchbowl. He lined it with an oilcloth and was packing it with pouches of gunpowder.
“I’m using this Colt single-action mechanism, with the barrel removed, as a trigger to set off a .45 cartridge, without the bullet, right next to fifteen pounds of explosive. How do you plan on fixing this thing to their hull?”
“Hopefully, with long wood screws at two opposite corners of the plate,” Jason explained.
Mackenzie shook his head back and forth. “This is a very crude device. It will probably kill you before you screw it into the Raven’s hull.”
“Your lack of confidence in your work is not comforting, lieutenant.” Jason didn’t try to hide his annoyance.
Mackenzie ignored the comment. “You will have two lines to reel out while getting away from the charge, once you set it. The first will cock the hammer. The second is tied to the trigger. The mine should blow a fifteen-inch hole in the Raven’s hull.” They wrapped the shaped charge in an oilcloth pouch, sewed it up, and applied warm tar/pitch to the seam and the tiny holes where the detonator strings came out. Mackenzie used canvas straps to secure the explosive package inside it’s armored shell.
Corporal Ballentine and Private Rice volunteered to row Jason toward Stone Atoll in a ship’s dory because they were the only marines left.
The sun was bright in a blue sky, but off to the west Jason could see the daily afternoon rainstorm approaching. They turned around the western tip of Stone Atoll and started northeast parallel to the beach. And luck was with them; the rain squall came up and covered their approach.
The squall grayed and misted the sky; and even the Raven’s tops couldn’t be seen, when they reached the eastern tip of the atoll. “We’re lucky,” Ballentine whispered, “If the rain keeps up, we can get you as close as you want.”
“Until they shoot at us,” Rice said looking at his corporal.
Then Rice asked quietly, “How you gonna get back?” He was looking west for the edge of the squall. These afternoon rains were regular, but passed quickly. Rice and Ballentine couldn’t wait for Jason, once the rains died down and the sun started to break up the fog.
“I’ll get back.” But, Jason wasn’t quite sure how.
“Good luck, captain,” Ballentine said. He and Rice both glanced over their shoulders frequently, looking for the outline of the Raven. Soon the Raven’s tops were in sight, and Jason motioned to Ballentine. He looked, and chose to keep rowing slowly, softly.
Jason slipped into the breathing machine’s shoulder straps. The mine was right next to him, tied to fifty feet of rope. All Jason had to do was drop over the side in forty feet of water, sink to the bottom, carry the mine to the Raven, attach it, get away, and detonate the explosive.
When Jason knew they were dangerously close, only twenty yards from the Raven, he hefted the mine and got ready to lower it over the side. Ballentine tapped Rice and they quietly shipped oars. Jason dropped the mine into the water and slowly lowered it down to the bottom. He climbed over the side, put the mouthpiece in, and lowered the goggles over his eyes.
The water was warm, and not turbulent once Jason was beneath the surface. The mine was on the sandy bottom, and Jason pulled himself down the rope. When he reached the sand he picked up the heavy mine and started to trudge toward the Raven.
The French machine did not grant air easily. Jason had to draw hard for each breath. He tried to move slowly, deliberately, along the bottom. And Jason was always glancing upward for swimmers or boats from the Raven. Quite soon, he saw the hull pitching in the sea above him. Jason dropped the mine and rested for half a minute.
He loosened his grip on the rope tied to the mine, but kept the line in hand and rose quickly to the bottom of the Raven. Jason reached for the swaying keel before he struck the ship with his head.
First, Jason had to plant a threaded hook bolt. He took one from the pouch on his belt and twisted it into the caulking between hull timbers, two feet up from the keel. Next, after threading the line through the hook, Jason inverted himself, planting his feet against the hull. He pulled the mine up to the bottom of the ship. Then Jason placed the bomb against the hull and hung it, by a corner hole of the steel plate, on the bolt. Then Jason used the rope to measure the distance to the opposite corner hole. Jason grabbed another hook bolt and twisted it into the port side keel at the same point in the rope, now used as a measure. Now, Jason could loosely attach the mine to the keel from the two hook bolts, but it needed to be tight against the hull for the explosive’s energy to blast a hole in the hull. So Jason twisted two more bolts–using a screwdriver through the hooks for leverage–into the other two corner holes until the mine was firmly in place. The turtle‑shell shaped plate should direct the force of the explosion into the hull for the first instant, until the bolts ripped loose. Jason just had to hope for the best.
When the charge was set Jason unrolled both lanyards and moved under the keel and up the starboard side. He jerked the green painted string enough to cock a Colt’s hammer. Then he wrapped the red string around his left foot and reached up to cover his ears when the Raven shifted and the sea pushed Jason away from her. Mackenzie’s primitive mine exploded and knocked Jason senseless.
Jason came to on the surface and tried to clear the ringing out of his head when he noticed the pirates were shooting holes in the empty brass tank. He got his arms out of the shoulder straps and dived to get away from the artificial lung, now just a target.
Jason quickly swam away until needing to break the surface for air. The sun was cutting through the last of the squall; several riflemen on the Raven were aiming toward him. Their ship was sinking, Jason was pleased to see. And Ballentine and Rice were waiting a short distance away.
“C’mon captain, we ain’t got all day!” Ballentine shouted. Jason swam toward them as fast as he could. Rice was firing a repeater at the men on the Raven to cover him, and drawing fire.
Jason lifted himself into the small boat in one swift motion and joined Ballentine, taking an oar to row. He watched Rice sitting in the stern and shooting at the Raven. The riflemen on the sinking ship weren’t even trying to keep down from Rice’s wild shots. “He can’t shoot,” Jason finally said to Ballentine.
“City boy; he’s no good with a rifle, but I’m a stronger rower,” Ballentine replied.
“Rice, take this oar,” Jason said, stepping low to the stern and snatching the Winchester from him.
“Sure, captain.” And he moved forward.
Jason checked the action to see if there was a round in the chamber and surveyed the deck of the Raven. She was definitely going under. Most of the crew were putting her boats over the starboard side and loading what they could take off. Only a few men were at the port gunnel concerned with Jason’s escape and he shot two straight off.
“I think the Detroit is raising sails to come up on us,” Ballentine said. Jason glanced at the Sweet Pea just as Mackenzie fired the gun on the forecastle. The solid shot hit the ocean just in front of the Detroit as she was bow low in a trough. Mackenzie had her range and she turned off, presumably to retrieve the crew from the Raven. It was a well-timed bluff. Number one gun was only good for another shot or two.
“Well, we should be okay now,” Jason said, turning back to look forward. Rice was shot in the forehead, slumped over, on the rowing bench. Ballentine was in the middle working both oars.
“He just sighed and fell over,” Ballentine said. His eyes were moist and his throat grew taut. “I liked that kid; he was a good marine.” Ballentine put even more effort into his rowing. Jason joined Ballentine at the oars and in ten minutes they reached the Sweet Pea.
Everyone watched as the Raven sank, her crew moving to the Detroit. Now there was just Uriah Stogger to deal with but Jason’s crew was less than half as many as they sailed with and now were exhausted and depressed. The stress of combat makes men numb, unfeeling, and the Sweet Pea’s crew had had their fill. Jason knew that he couldn’t ask anymore of them.
Luckily, Stogger was not in better shape. Later in the afternoon he came in a tiny boat with a white flag. Jason climbed down the side of the Sweet Pea so no one could hear their discussion and so Stogger could see he was fit. “What do you want?”
“You know we’ll finish you tomorrow,” Stogger said.
“No, after today your men will mutiny if you order an attack tomorrow,” Jason told him.
“Why don’t you give me enough of the treasure to satisfy the hotheads in the two ships’ crews. You’ve got more than enough and we’ll end the bloodshed and move off.”
In response Jason pulled a small four-ounce bar of raw, soft gold from his pocket and held it up for Stogger to see. When he reached for it Jason tossed the gold in the ocean. Stogger jumped, trying to grab the tiny treasure, but too late. He looked at Jason with vicious eyes. “I won’t give you even a thin slice of gold,” Jason said. “I won’t buy you off after you killed and maimed those I care for. Raise your sails and move off at dawn or I’ll kill you and sink your ship.” He was holding onto the ladder with his right hand and the left was by the Colt in his belt.
Then Jason relented and said quietly. “If you agree to leave I’ll send you provisions, water, and medical supplies.”
Stogger nodded. “I’ll take your offer to my crew and send you a response before sunset.”
“See that you do, Grenfell. I remember telling you to stay out of this.”
“Pike, don’t you think it’s a little late for that,” Grenfell said thoughtfully and ran out his oars.
Wales and Mackenzie were waiting while Jason climbed up the side of the Sweet Pea. “I think they’ll leave in the morning.” Wales nodded and chose the least exhausted from the crew for watch duty.
At sunset a longboat from the Detroit approached with four unarmed rowers. The Sweet Pea’s crew lowered down food, water, and medical supplies. Grenfell’s men rowed off, few words spoken, and Jason breathed a sigh of relief the pirates accepted his offer. He had very little to fight with if Grenfell chose to renew the contest in the morning.
Jason went to lie down next to Addie. If he moved, his backside caused him to grit his teeth against the sharp pain, but none of it was a fraction of the hard ache that vibrated through his jaw and face muscles reaching a brain still shocked at the realization of Addie’s terrible loss. Jason wrapped himself around her like two well worn spoons in an old kitchen drawer. He listened to her slow, labored breathing and could only think of her pain, the sorrow in her soul, and the fierce discomfort that would assault Addie when the opiate wore off.
In the morning Mackenzie had the watch and he called Jason. “There is smoke on the horizon. It’s a steamship.” Twenty minute later he said, “A frigate, sir, a British frigate.” Mackenzie laughed. “I would guess HMS Hercules assigned to the Caribbean squadron last year. Alan Croft captains the Hercules. Croft is the hardest bastard in the Royal Navy.”
Wales came to stand next to them, yawning. “Why hasn’t Stogger raised sail and got out of here? The wind is right for him to head northwest,” Crawford asked.
“I don’t know.” Mackenzie scratched his jaw. The Detroit was sitting calmly at anchor a thousand yards off while the British warship approached.
“I imagine they are all sleeping, exhausted after yesterday,” Jason surmised. “What will your people do?” he asked.
Mackenzie looked surprised at the question. “Maybe you made a truce with Stogger, but the Royal Navy never signed on. If he doesn’t strike his colors Captain Croft will blow the Detroit out of the water.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Hercules crossed the Detroit’s bow and turned to give her a broadside. In response the Detroit, her crew now awake, fired off a solid shot from a meager four pounder and they saw the iron ball strike the frigate.
On the Hercules, Croft nodded with satisfaction. “Steady as you go,” he said to the helmsman. Then Croft gestured toward the pirate sloop with his arm and addressed the officer on the gun deck. “As your guns bear, Mr. Frye,” Croft directed in a loud, slow, and deadly methodical voice, “Please sink the privateer.”
Through Rhinehart’s telescope Jason watched Captain Croft raise his arm and drop it. The modern, heavy guns of HMS Hercules belched thunder and fire, gray smoke and red iron.
Grenfell was at the wheel trying to turn away from the Hercules when the splinters and fragments tore through him. His chest and face just turned to bloody flesh and his arms went up and jerked about until he collapsed on the deck of his ship. Immediately, the port side of the Detroit completely disappeared, exploded in splinters killing most aboard and sending her listing to port. The ocean swept in, the ship was engulfed, and she sank quickly.
Jason, standing on the small quarterdeck, looked down on the main deck where Harry, Rhinehart, Chief Lewis, Sergeant Craig, Nolan and Miles Asbury, and Pip were laid out properly, shrouded, ready for a sea burial.
Sarah walked up and stood next to Jason to watch the Detroit sink beneath the waves. “Addie is asleep, laudanum and exhaustion.”
“It has stopped,” Sarah said.
“Thank God,” Jason whispered.
Sarah looked up at Jason, surprise creeping across her face, “I didn’t know you cared at all about God.”
Then she saw the impromptu morgue. “Well, you’ve got your treasure, Commodore Pike,” her tone nasty and sarcastic.
Sarah glared at Mackenzie. “The Royal Navy has a victory.” And again, Sarah stared at the bodies. “The rest of us have a tragedy.”
“You got the vengeance you craved so dearly,” Jason pointed out.
“Yes,” Sarah said stoically, “Such savage, melancholy satisfaction. And,” Sarah reminded, “I saved your life too.”
“Thank you,” Jason said. “I’m glad you were there,” he admitted.
Lieutenant Mackenzie prevailed upon Captain Croft, and the Hercules towed the treasure-laden Sweet Pea to Fort Jefferson for safe keeping, and Dr. Porter tended the wounded.
Jason took Croft aside and convinced him to take Addie, Sarah, Wales, and himself to Key West. The Hercules left at dawn, needing daylight to see the shoals and the sand in the clear, shallow waters amongst the frequent atolls of Hawk’s Channel.
Wade Estes was in his room at the Atlantic Gulf Hotel and about to go to sleep when there was a light knock on the door. The front desk clerk handed him an envelope. Estes tipped the young clerk and read the sad note. It was written by an old man who used to work for Dardy and had had a cousin in Carney’s crew. Estes sighed, not at all surprised. He went to put on his shoulder holster. Estes knew news travels fast. In this case the disastrous news of the loss of the Raven and the Detroit was hastily brought to Key West by four survivors in a small boat. A steady wind from the northwest propelled the skiff swiftly eastward, with too shallow a draft to be troubled by reefs. Estes shook his head and muttered, “Jason was right; I should have stayed home.”
General Harrington was sleeping on the porch, Wade saw as he walked through the living room. On the table next to him was half a bottle of bourbon and a plate of bones left from a meal of broiled pork ribs. The general was snoring, making a loud clucking sound.
Wade pulled a chair out from the table and sat down. The chair, scratching across the wood porch, woke the general. He looked around and rubbed his eyes. “What time is it, Wade?”
“A little after ten o’clock . . . at night.” Wade added, but instantly regretted what he said. Bad news didn’t need to be delivered badly.
Harrington looked at Wade curiously. “I must have dozed off after dinner.”
Wade took a tumbler and napkin off the table and ran the cloth around the inside of the glass. He poured himself a short bourbon. The general watched and commented, “Things aren’t like they were before the war.” Wade remembered Harrington’s plantation and manor house near Vicksburg, Mississippi. He had four colored women in the kitchen back then and every plate, glass, or knife and fork had always been immaculately clean.
“No, they aren’t. I’m sorry, general, very sorry. Things didn’t work out the way we expected.
“Tell me what you know, Wade,” Harrington said.
“Both the Raven and Detroit were sunk. Carney and Stogger are dead and there were terrible casualties on both sides. Survivors saw a British frigate tow the Sweet Pea to Fort Jefferson. I believe Jason Pike will be coming for us, general. We’re both marked men.”
Harrington nodded acceptance and stood up. “Well, I suppose weak men like you will choose to fall on their swords. I’m made of sterner stuff. For the last forty-five years I’ve fought abolitionism with all the strength the good Lord has chosen to give me.” Harrington walked out to the edge of the backyard deck and turned around to face Estes. Behind him was the sandy beach, constant sound of the rolling surf, a dark starry sky, and the salty sea wind. Wade sipped his drink patiently. He knew a speech was brewing, like a sailor observing a storm coming over the horizon.
“John Caldwell Calhoun was my mentor and my hero. He was vice-president to John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson.” To the east, summer lightning over the Atlantic flashed a bright, thick bolt down into the sea. Wade knew the event happened a long way off because there was no accompanying thunder.
“Wade, you should have seen Calhoun debating Daniel Webster in the Senate during 1833. Those were grand times.” The general looked up toward the heavens, and as if in response, another bolt of lightning lit up the whole sky as it violently struck the sea.
“Slavery was always a black and white issue for both sides. Ultimately, there was no grayish middle ground for compromise,” Wade said.
“Exactly. And Calhoun understood Abolition is an affront to God and the Devil’s handiwork. To elevate darkies to the level of a white man clearly detracts from the living God who, the Bible says, made us in his own image,” the general reasoned.
“We were the last Christian nation to do away with slavery, and we didn’t do it gracefully.” Wade was getting tired of Harrington living in the past.
The general shook his head back and forth. “Sometimes I find it hard to believe you worked for Bedford Forrest. I imagine he didn’t like such talk any more than I do.”
Or truth, Wade thought and smirked. Forrest would have shot any man who voiced such opinions in his presence.
“When can you get back on the road, Wade? I’ll prepare a list of the men you’re to see. This time we won’t plan on a treasure at the end of the rainbow. We’ll do it the old- fashioned way. We’ll put together several sample portfolios of Guatemala development bonds for you to offer and . . .”
”No! If I’m alive tomorrow morning, and not in jail, I’m going home, general. Where there is an attractive widow who wants to marry me, and a reputable law firm that would like me to join them. And, I have a mind to do both. No more crusades for me,” Wade said thoughtfully. He really wanted to finish the bourbon in his glass but decided not to. Wade wanted to be sober to either win a gunfight with Jason Pike, or at least to remember his own death.
“Oh, c’mon Wade. You can’t leave the dance this early. The plans for the conquest of Guatemala are perfect. We just need new funding.”
“This dance is over. It’s time to go home.”
As Wade stood up to leave, the general showed surprising swiftness, rushing to grab Wade’s arm, turning him around abruptly, pushing him back down into his chair.
“You can’t leave,” Harrington screamed. “I gave you my Lorena to marry. I loved her so much. She was the most beautiful child. I gave her away . . . to you. And you owe me,” the old man shrieked, hovering just over Wade, spitting out words with bitter, old, acrid bourbon breath.
And that was enough. A lifetime worth of rage finally boiled over in a usually passive Wade Estes. He stood up and punched Harrington in the face, and shoved the old man back against the railing. Wade used his right leg to sweep the general’s feet out from under him. As the old man fell down, Wade grabbed his head and dragged him up, laying the back of his neck across the top of the railing. His scrawny throat and ancient Adam’s apple was exposed to Wade’s pent-up wrath.
“You filthy, disgusting, old shit,” Wade yelled. “Lorena told me how you took her and used her when she was a child. Your own daughter–how could you? She hated you with every fiber of her being. Killing you before Jason Pike comes to do it is the last pleasure I’ll have.” Wade raised his right fist as he glared down at the general’s terrorized face.
The side of his hand smashed down, crushing Harrington’s windpipe; then Wade picked up the gasping, dying old man by his faded, shabby wool robe, and threw him over the railing onto the sand. Wade sat down at the table and gulped down the bourbon in his glass, and poured another, while Harrington choked and his frail body twitched, in its final agony. To Wade, staying sober didn’t seem important or necessary anymore.
Wade raised his glass in toast. “Thor, an honest, pagan god of these violent heavens, I commit my selfish and weak soul before the court of your harsh rule, and I beg no mercy from you.” There was another silent burst of nature’s brilliant, primal energy far out over the Atlantic. Wade slowly nodded acceptance. “So be it.”
When Hercules arrived at Key West she anchored in the harbor. Rob Stevens tried to interview Jason as soon as they came ashore but Jason simply said, “The story isn’t over yet.”
They went straight to the Samuels house. Addie was in great pain, and Jason knew he needed some proper stitches. Samuels, appalled at Addie’s loss, changed her bandage and gave her a lot of laudanum. She became calm, sleepy, and Samuels led her to a cot to lie down.
Then he turned to Jason who said, “My wound is superficial but I have lost too much blood and . . .”
”Leave the diagnosis and treatment to the professional,” S amuels said testily, and started to sew up Jason’s wound.
Afterward, Jason joined the ladies. Salina was sitting in a corner and crying softly, while Sarah paced in the center of the living room. Jason looked out the front window and saw Kate Asbury standing under a palm tree, protection against the steady, slight rain. Her arms were around the two small twin girls who stood in front of her. Kate’s face was pale, her features harsh and sad. She stood stiff as a board, glaring at Jason.
“Sarah, Kate Asbury is outside. Will you please invite her in, out of the rain,” Jason said. Sarah went out and brought Kate and her daughters inside.
“Where are my sons?” Kate asked.
“We buried them at sea,” Jason said. “I’m sorry.”
“And they both died bravely in battle, right?” Kate’s voice was furiously sarcastic. “Do you expect me to be proud of their sacrifice?”
“Yes,” Jason said, and decided she is going to be nasty.
Kate got even more angry and sneered viciously, about to explode Jason knew; so he slowly said, “Your sons died like all young soldiers. Afraid, thinking of the years they were losing, loved ones never to be seen again, and children they’ll never father.” Jason’s tone was sorrowful and he stared toward Sarah, who’s expression was curious. He wondered was there a hint, a tiny bit of absolution for him in Sarah’s eyes. “And I don’t expect you to be proud, Mrs. Asbury; but I would have expected even you to mourn for Miles and Nolan before you came looking for me. Or, don’t you know, don’t you realize they were cut from the same bolt of cloth as you. Miles and Nolan were their mother’s sons!”
Kate Asbury balled her fists, and screamed out in exasperated wrath and grief–no words, just a primal utterance of ultimate frustration–and leapt at Jason, raising both fists, apparently to pound on his chest. Jason stepped to the side to avoid Kate and hit a wall, grimacing from stretching new sutures.
“Damn, Kate,” Samuels said, and stood up to restrain her. “I just finished sewing Jason up. You’ll rip him open like he’s a can of pears.”
“He got my husband murdered and my sons killed in some senseless sea battle. Jason Pike’s a devil!” she yelled in a raspy, crying voice.
“No,” Addie said, standing in the doorway. Her voice slurred by narcotics, tears in her glazed eyes, “He’s my . . . my husband.”
Jason went to support her, led Addie to the settee, and saw her seated, being careful of her right arm, now in a sling. Then he turned back to Kate.
“If you have more to say to me, you might wish to send the children to visit with Salina.”
“My daughters stay here. I want them to see the man that killed their father and brothers. You’re a perfect example of the worst of us. Violence comes so effortlessly to you. Why are men’s lives so cheap that you spend them so easily to get what you want?” Both little Emily and Elizabeth stared up at Jason with big hollow, frightened eyes, tears on their tiny, red, puffy cheeks.
“Carney’s men were willing to fight to the death, and the force I led was of the same mind, including your sons.”
“My sons were foolish children.” Kate swung her head back and forth. “And men like you sicken me. You care so much for wealth and power, righteous causes and winning wars. Yet you care nothing for real people.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. “To you, progress, development, and wealth are more important than my children. Well, I don’t agree. I damn you to hell for all eternity, until the crack of doom, for taking my sons.”
Kate walked away with her daughters to Salina’s care. Jason shrugged and turned to Harry. But Harry wasn’t there. Jason was already starting to miss Harry.
“Jase, she’ll still hate you,” Addie said tiredly, “even after you give her a lot of money and make her rich. Kate is like that.”
Jason nodded and walked to stare out the window. “I know,” he said. “I came here to help Harry raise a treasure. But to do so, we caused a lot of death and misery. I’m sorry.” He turned back to face Addie, but she was asleep.
“Well,” Samuels said, clipping the tip from a Havana. “That’s quite an admission from you. Did you know she had dozed off?”
“Nothing seems to be working right for me,” Jason admitted. “I have to go out for a little while.” He buckled on his gun belt and checked the Colt revolver for fresh cartridges.
“I believe Wade Estes is at the general’s house, Jason,” Samuels said, striking a match for the cigar. “Keep in mind you’re not in shape for anymore rough exercise.”
“Yes. I know that. You’ll put Addie to bed and keep an eye on Kate and her daughters?” The doctor nodded and puffed his cigar.
Just after midnight Jason went looking for Wade Estes. He wanted a gunfight, and only had to walk half a block south on Simonton Street. Jason saw Wade walk out from Harrington House. The wind became noisy when it gusted through the palm trees, knocking the branches into each other. Several fell to the ground to wither and die, but maybe resurrected, Jason wondered, woven into a shady hat by an enterprising conch. The moon was bright and Jason could easily see Wade’s figure in the silverish light streaming haphazardly through the fluttering, battling palm branches.
Lillie Watlington was standing in the shadows off to Jason’s left. He limped on, but nodded to her, so Wade would notice that the talky, little gossip was present to witness his demise.
“Wade,” Jason called.
“You’re limping, Jase,” he said. “You better go home.”
“No. You should’ve gone home. Where’s the old man? Where’s Harrington?” Jason asked.
“He’s dead,” Wade said. “He had an accident.”
“All right. We’ll see about that later.”
“Are you going to try to kill me, Jase?”
“Try, have you any doubt? You’re already dead, Wade. I’m just gonna put you to rest.”
Wade’s right hand reached toward his gun and Jason started to draw when a shot sounded and Jason saw the muzzle flash from the shadows, off to his right side.
Jason drew the Colt, cocked the hammer, and instinctively dropped to a painful crouch. He glanced nervously between the dark, to the right, where the shot had come from and Wade directly in front of him.
Wade stood still, and in the moonlight, Jason saw blood on his vest, an upper right chest wound. Wade dropped to one knee and put an arm out to steady himself, as if it was important that he die in an erect position–all that damned Southern pride again. Jason shook his head in consternation because the Civil War had lasted extra, miserable years because of men like Wade Estes.
Marion Drake came out of the shadows and walked over to Wade, as Jason got slowly, carefully, to his feet. He watched her–marveling at her poise and how feminine she could be, even under these circumstances–while he uncocked and holstered the Colt. Jason hobbled over to where Wade knelt; and Marion stood over him.
“I guessed it was you when the bullet didn’t knock me off my feet,” Wade said, coughing up blood from the lung wound. “A damn ladies’ gun.”
Marion dropped the smallish revolver to the ground. “I’m sorry Wade,” she said in a quiet, but firm voice.
“Marion, you sure know how to hold a grudge. Its been twenty years,” Wade answered, groaned, and fell over to lie on his side, blood dribbling from his chest and his mouth.
“No, only seventeen. Shouldn’t we take him to the doctor?” Marion asked Jason, her face curious, yet passive.
“If Wade recovers he’ll be tried, imprisoned, and possibly hung. Wouldn’t you rather it all end right here? I think Wade would want it that way,” Jason suggested, and Wade looked up inquisitively at Jason.
“He’s still alive. You should carry him to the doctor,” Marion said. “Isn’t that the right thing to do, Mr. Pike? You were a marshal once, a civil servant, weren’t you?”
“Marion,” Jason shook his head back and forth. “I’m not carrying anybody anywhere tonight. And, if I was still a marshal, I would arrest you for shooting Wade, and that would be the right thing to do.”
“You won’t do that,” diminutive Lillie Watlington said, sneaking up behind Jason. “You adore Marion Drake. All men do.” A frumpy, and ruffled Lillie was staring at the tall, slender, and perpetually sad spinster. “You’re enchanted by her beauty and her mystery.
“I’ve envied you,” Lillie said, looking up at Marion, “your appearance and your kind, soft manner all my life because of the men you so easily attracted when we were young, Marion. But, fate didn’t grant you a blissful life. Your loveliness and your trusting nature only brought you betrayal and misery.” Lillie smiled sardonically. “We do need to chat more often. Come for tea next week, Marion.”
Then Lillie looked disapprovingly down at Wade. “I always knew you would come to no good. Wade, did a demon come up from hell and steal your meager soul away during one of your despondent depressions?” Wade shrugged dejectedly, and Lillie shook her head in disappointment. “Men like you destroy those that you draw close to you, and then you ruin yourselves.”
“Nobody’s perfect, Lillie,” Wade said painfully.
Lillie turned to Jason. “And you’re no better, Mr. Pike, a callous, a cold harbinger of death. All your money won’t buy you happiness. Indeed, your power is all about wealth. Isn’t it? That’s all you care about.” Lillie nodded, putting her hands on her hips, satisfied. And Jason realized Lillie thought she had just discovered a major secret. “If that’s all there is for you,” the disheveled little witch said slowly, being judgmental, “you’re an empty, a hollow man. And I predict your regrets will come to outweigh any treasure you’ve raised. Most probably,” Lillie added in a swaggering tone, “you’ll sail away from Key West with none of what you came here for.”
Jason felt like he had a mouthful of sawdust and only managed to say, with modest resolution, “Actually I’m a warrior used to fighting for small pay, as a soldier or deputy marshal. Fighting for profit is still new and strange to me. This time I did . . . I did what I had to do, Lillie.”
“And you’ll certainly come to lament what you did, Mr. Pike.” Then Lillie glanced at Marion. “Goodnight, my dear.” And she walked away.
“What a horrid and tasteless little creature,” Marion said. “I hope Lillie Watlington eats something from the sea that has spoiled, breaks out in hives, and scratches herself to death.”
Wade tried to laugh, which quickly led to painful coughing and profuse bleeding.
Jason examined Marion’s little .25 caliber, five-shot revolver and wondered if she had merely wounded Wade to keep him from killing Estes. But could Marion be that good a shot in the dark? He pocketed the pistol and glanced at Marion. She wore a poker face. Marion revealed nothing; she never easily told Jason anything he wanted to know.
Lights came on in several houses and the street started to fill with curious bystanders. “Well, are you two gonna keep debating whether to let me die right here in the street?” Wade asked, trying to push himself up off the roadbed, still coughing up blood.
Jason lost control of the situation as people gathered and he was forced to change roles from avenger to civil servant. Jason asked several men to carry Wade to Doc Samuels’ home.
“You shot Estes in a gunfight?” Marshal Jones asked, as they walked behind the group carrying Wade.
“No, not at all. If I shot Wade he’d be dead. Marion Drake shot him. But I doubt if you can charge her.” Jason handed Jones the small revolver Marion had used. “I don’t know whether she wanted to kill Wade, or save him from me.”
“No reason to arrest her; we’d never get a jury to find her guilty, not on this island,” Jones said.
“Or anywhere else,” Jason added. Then he noticed one old man picking up palm branches.
“Is this the end of it?” Rob Stevens asked, also walking with the group. His shirt was buttoned into his jacket; Jason even noticed Stevens’ shoes were on the wrong feet.
“Get your clothes on in a hurry, Rob?”
Stevens didn’t answer but curiously raised his eyebrows.
“Yes, I think it’s over,” Jason said. He walked to the old man collecting palms to order a hat made for Addie, because Jason absentmindedly remembered Addie liked to wear a wide brimmed palm hat when sitting at the shore, and sketching the seagulls.
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