Most of the people bustling through the plaza were black, and several times as Shandy made his way toward the official-looking buildings on the far side, he was courteously greeted with, "Bon jou', blanc." Good day, white. He nodded politely each time, and once, when a young black man muttered to a companion a quick joke in half-Dahomey patois about Shandy's discreditable shirt cuffs, he was able to quote back, in the same patois, a marron proverb to the effect that any sort of cuffs, or none at all, were preferable to iron ones. The young man laughed, but stared curiously after Shandy, and he realized he would have to watch himself here. This was civilization, not New Providence Island.
Wary of any kind of law enforcement officers - for it was possible that the English authorities had told the French about the John Chandagnac who had assisted in the total destruction of a Royal Navy man-of-war less than a month ago - Shandy asked a merchant where he should go to settle questions about deeds and titles to local property, and he was directed to one of the government offices right on the plaza.
Yes, he thought as he strode across to the place, first I'll find out where the old homestead is, and go pay Uncle Sebastian a visit. No need to let him know right away who I am, though I will definitely want to do that pretty soon.
The interior of the building looked like any European office - several white men working at high writing stands, leather-bound ledgers along one wall - but the tropical breeze swaying the lace curtains in the tall windows undid the illusion, and the clink of pen-nib in inkwell, and then the scratch of the nib on paper, seemed as incongruous here as would the cry of a parrot in Threadneedle Street.
One of the clerks looked up when Shandy entered. "Yes?"
"Good day," said Shandy, trying for the first time in two months to speak pure French. "I have a question about the, uh, Chandagnac estate - "
"Are you another of the employees? There is nothing we here can do to help you get your back wages."
"No, I'm not an employee." Shandy summoned up his best Parisian accent. "I have a question about - the title to the house and land."
"Ah, I see, you are another creditor. Well, as I understand it, everything was sold; but of course you will want to talk to the executor of the estate."
"Executor?" Shandy's stomach went cold. "Is he - is Sebastian Chandagnac dead?"
"You did not know? I am sorry. Yes, he committed suicide some time Wednesday night. His - "
"This last Wednesday?" Shandy interrupted, fighting to keep from shouting. "Three days ago?"
"Yes. His body was found on Thursday morning by the housekeeper." The clerk shrugged. "Business reversals, it seems. They say he had to sell everything, and still left behind many debts."
Shandy's face felt numb, as if he'd had too much to drink. "I ... heard that he was a ... speculator."
"This executor. Where would I find him?"
"At this hour he will probably be having brandy on the terrace below Vigneron's. He is a small man, somewhat bucktoothed. His name is Lapin, Georges Lapin."
Shandy found Mr. Lapin at a table overlooking the crowded harbor, and from the number of saucers in front of him he guessed he'd been there quite awhile.
The smaller man started violently when he saw him, then apologized and accepted Shandy's offer to buy him another brandy.
"You are the executor, I understand, of the Chandagnac estate," began Shandy when he'd pulled out a chair for himself and sat down. "Uh, two brandies, please," he added to the steward who had half-suspiciously followed him to Lapin's table.
"You are of Sebastian's family," said Lapin with certainty.
" ... Yes," Shandy admitted.
"There is resemblance - for one instant I thought you were him." He sighed. "Executor, yes, that is me. Though as it happens there is nothing to execute - eh? - and all I am doing is pointing various creditors at one another so that they may fight. Unknown to any of us his friends, Sebastian had destituted himself." He picked up his brandy as soon as the steward set it down, and he drained it at a gulp as if in illustration of Sebastian Chandagnac's profligacy.
"One more for Mr. Lapin, please," Shandy told the steward. Turning back to Lapin he asked, "And he's dead? Certainly?"
"I saw the body myself, M'sieur Chandagnac. How odd it is to call someone else that! He had no other surviving family here, you know. Yes, he primed a blunderbuss pistol and then loaded it with all his remaining gold and jewelry." Lapin held out his two hands cupped together. "Not much as a fortune, but as a load of shot it was kingly. And then he raised the gun so that the bell muzzle was a foot away from his face, took one last look, we may suppose, at what remained of his fortune, and then sent that fortune into his brain! Ah, it was poetical, in a way. Though messy in a pragmatic sense, of course - virtually the entirety of his head wound up in the garden below his bedchamber window. Poor Sebastian! - I am certain the local gendarmerie made off with most of the ... ammunition."
Then Shandy remembered where he'd heard the name Lapin - Skank had said that the big dealers with pirates on Haiti were "Lapin and Shander-knack." And you're right, Skank, Shandy thought now - he does look like a rabbit.
"I suppose I can see why they made it look like suicide," Shandy said ruminatively.
"I beg your pardon," said Lapin - "Look like? There was no question - "
"No no," said Shandy hastily, "keep thinking precisely that, I certainly don't mean to tell you anything you don't need to know. You're in no danger. I'm sure you never had any dealings with," he leaned forward and spoke quietly over the brandies, "pirates."
Lapin's plump face actually turned pale in the evening light. "Pirates?"
Shandy nodded. "An English governor has been sent out to New Providence Island, which is the pirates' home base. Now the pirates are killing off all the respectable merchants they once had dealings with - so as to leave no one to," Shandy winked, "testify." Shandy almost started laughing at the idea of the New Providence pirates being methodical about anything, but he forced himself to maintain a mournful expression.
Lapin swallowed. "Kill the merchants?"
"That's right. The pirates are just waiting for each merchant to establish contact. As soon as one of their old customers gets in touch with them, or consents to see them if they approach him," Shandy shrugged, "that man is as dead as Sebastian."
"Mon Dieu!" Lapin got hastily to his feet, spilling his brandy. He cast a fearful look at the harbor, as if expecting brigands to rush ashore even now. "It is - later than I had thought. It has been pleasant talking to you, M'sieur Chandagnac, but I am afraid I must bid adieu."
Shandy didn't get up, but raised his glass. "To your very good and continuing health, Monsieur Lapin."
But after Lapin bumbled away, Shandy's momentarily raised spirits fell. His uncle was dead and penniless. There would be no revenge and no ship. He rented a room for the night and then in the morning hitched a ride back out to L'Arcahaye and the waiting Jenny.
For the next two weeks he led the Jenny on a frantic roundabout tour of the Caribbean, but though he checked at every port registry, even the English ones where he was a wanted man, there was no record of any Vociferous Carmichael or even Charlotte Bailey having been seen anywhere since the first of August, when, after having magically picked up Shandy and dropped him over the side, Benjamin Hurwood had got his corpse-crew in motion and sailed away.
At the end of the two weeks of fruitless search his crew was on the verge of mutiny and the deadline for taking the King's Pardon was only two days away, so Shandy ordered his men to turn the old sloop toward New Providence Island.
They arrived in the midafternoon of Tuesday, the fifth of September, and when Shandy stepped off the Jenny he didn't look back; Venner could captain her from now on, and take her to Hell or the Heavenly Kingdom for all he cared. Once ashore, Shandy had time to go to the fort, officially take the pardon from Governor Rogers, and still be back on the beach in time to cook up a vast dinner. And, in what was to become a tradition through the next three months, he ate nearly none of it himself, contenting himself instead with huge quantities of drink.
Yes, Skank, Shandy thought again now as he watched someone out in the harbor keep on trying to yank the Jenny's gaff-spar higher, yes I was more jumpy in those days. I had things to do then; now there's only one task left, and that's ... forget. He stretched out more comfortably in the sand and swirled the sun-warmed rum in his cup affectionately.
A young Navy ensign hesitantly approached Shandy. "Excuse me ... you're Jack Shandy?"
Shandy was finishing the cup, and stared owlishly at the young man over the rim. "Right," he said, lowering it finally.
"You're the one - excuse me - that sank the Whitney, aren't you?"
"I don't think so. What was the Whitney?"
"A man-o'-war that blew up and sank, this last June. They'd captured Philip Davies, and - "
"Oh." Shandy noticed that his cup was empty, and got to his feet. "Right. Until now I never knew her name. Actually, it was Davies that blew her up - I just helped." He put his cup down on the table in front of the liquor tent and nodded at the man who ran it.
"And you shot the captain?" the young ensign went on.
Shandy picked up his refilled cup. "It was a long time ago. I don't remember."
The ensign looked disappointed. "I arrived here on the Delicia, with Governor Rogers," he explained. "I, uh ... guess this was a pretty wild place before, huh? Swordfights, shootings, treasure ... "
Shandy laughed softly and decided not to burst the boy's romantic bubble. "Oh, aye, all o' that."
Encouraged, the young man pressed on. "And you sailed with Blackbeard himself, I hear, on that mysterious trip to Florida? What was that like?"
Shandy gestured expansively. "Oh ... hellish, hellish. Treachery, swordfights, men walking the plank, sea battles ... trackless swamps, terrible fevers, cannibal Carib Indians dogging our tracks ... " He paused, for the young ensign was blushing and frowning.
"You don't have to make fun of me," the boy snapped.
Shandy blinked, not recalling exactly what he'd been saying. "What do you mean?"
"Just because I'm new out here doesn't mean I don't know anything. I knew the Spaniards completely wiped out the Carib Indians two hundred years ago."
"Oh." Shandy scowled in concentration. Where had he heard of Carib Indians? "I didn't know that. Here, lemme buy you some rum, I didn't mean any ... any ... "
"I can't drink in uniform," the ensign said, though he seemed mollified.
"I'll have yours then." Shandy drained his cup and put it down on the table again. The man behind the table refilled it and made yet another mark on his credit sheet.
"It does seem that I've missed the great days of piracy," the ensign sighed. "Davies, Bonnett, Blackbeard all dead, Hornigold and Shandy have taken the pardon - though there is one new one. Do you know Ulysse Segundo?"
"No," said Shandy, carefully picking up his cup. "Dressy name."
"Well, sure. He's got a big three-masted ship called the Ascending Orpheus, and he's taken dozens of ships in the last couple of months. He's supposed to be the most bloodthirsty of all - people are so scared of him that some have jumped into the sea and drowned themselves when it became clear he was going to take their ship!"
"That's pretty scared," Shandy allowed, nodding.
"There's all sorts of stories about him," the ensign went on eagerly, then halted. "Of course, I don't believe most of them. Still, a lot of people seem to. They say he can whistle the wind out of your sails and into his, and that he can navigate and catch you even in the densest fog, and when he captures a ship he not only takes all the gold and jewelry off her, but also the dead bodies of any sailors killed in the capture! Why, he won't even bother with stuff like grain or leather or hardware - he takes only real treasure, though they say he values fresh blood most of all, and has sometimes drained whole crews. One captain who lost his ship to him but lived says there were corpses in the Orpheus's rigging, obviously corpses, rotting - but one of them was talking!"
Shandy smiled. "What'd it have to say?"
"Well ... I don't believe this, of course ... but the captain swore this one corpse kept saying, over and over, 'I am not a dog.' - hey, watch it!" he added angrily, for Shandy had dropped his cup, and rum had splashed on the boy's uniform trousers.
"Where was he seen last," Shandy asked quickly, "and when was it?"
The ensign blinked in surprise at this sudden intense interest, so uncharacteristic of the sleepy-eyed, easygoing man who had seemed to have no other goal in life than to be the settlement drunkard. "Why, I don't know, I - "
"Think!" Shandy seized the young man by his uniform collar and shook him. "Where and when?"
"Uh - near Jamaica, off Montego Bay - not quite a week ago!"
Shandy flung him away, turned on his heel and sprinted toward the shore. "Skank!" he yelled. "Skank, dammit, where - there you are. Come here!"
The young ex-pirate trotted up to him uncertainly. "What's up, Jack?"
"The Jenny's leaving today, this afternoon. Get all the men you can - and provisions - and get aboard her."