"Bring him here anyway." Shandy slowly got to his feet, facing Jamaica and flexing his stiff hands. The sky was lightening in the east - the sun would be up terribly soon.

"Uh ... sure, cap'n." Skank started away, but paused. "Uh ... why?"

"And a couple of stout, yard-long spar sections, and a roll of the strongest, thinnest twine," Shandy went on, still staring at the island, "and a - " He paused, and seemed to gag.

"And a what, captain?" Skank asked softly.

"A sharp sailmaker's needle."

What was the point of leaving Port-au-Prince, Sebastian Chandagnac asked himself fretfully as he tried to find a comfortable position among the rocks and dew-drenched grass, if in this new Joshua Hicks identity I'm still skulking around desolate shores at dawn waiting for signals from pirate ships? He shivered and drew his cloak closer about himself and had another swig from his brandy flask, and was warmed by both the alcohol and the envy of the driver who waited on the carriage several yards behind him.

He scowled around at the horizon, then stiffened, for he could see a light gray fleck out on the sea's dark face. He fumbled the telescope to his eye and squinted through it. Yes, it was a ship, tall and square-rigged. Unable to learn any more about it for now, he lowered the telescope.

That must be him, he thought. What other ship would be slanting in past Portland Point at dawn on Christmas? He glanced back at the carriage - and the driver was looking resentful and one of the horses stamped impatiently and blew out a plume of steam - but Chandagnac didn't walk back to them yet, for Ulysse had ordered him to wait until he actually saw him on the deck. "It may be my ship, you see," Segundo had said, with that smile of his which, though cheerful, seemed to expose too many teeth, "but I may not be on it - I may have been detained somewhere, or even killed, so that it wouldn't be until after Christmas that I'd be able to get back here. And the ... eviction magic has to be done on Christmas. So you plan on doing it yourself unless you see me wave."

Be aboard, Chandagnac prayed to the man now, be aboard and wave. / don't want to get involved in that stuff. It occurred to him that, at the moment, he was happier here on this cold cliff than he would have been at home, for yesterday evening the frightful black nurse had begun making preparations for the magic: burning bugs and snakes in the fireplace - impervious to their frequent stings - then carefully collecting the ash and dusting a couple of spoonfuls of it over the pile of leaves and roots that was to be the captive girl's dinner; tuning and testing at least a dozen little tin whistles; whispering into various dirty old bottles and then instantly corking them, as if to keep the whispered words in; and, worst of all, the thing that had made Chandagnac rush out to keep his cliff-top appointment much earlier than was necessary, she had razored open a vein in her bony wrist and let some of the contents run into a cup, but what had come out was not blood, or any kind of fluid, but a fine black powder ...

He shuddered now at the memory of it. Yes, he thought, be aboard, Ulysse, so you can be the one who gets to perform your damned sorcery, and I can get everything ready for my big dinner tonight. And you'd better have been right when you assured me that all of your magical trappings will be cleared out of the garden before three o'clock, when the servants will be arriving to set up.


He peered through the telescope again. The sky was brighter and the ship was nearer and he could see that it was indeed the Ascending Orpheus ... looking a bit battered, but coming on strongly enough.

So far so good, he thought with cautious satisfaction. In half an hour I can be rolling east, back toward Spanish Town ... have lunch and a few drinks at the club, stay away from the house until Ulysse has finished his awful business ... and then get my wig curled and make sure all my clothes are immaculate. Maybe take a nap. It's essential that I put all this unpleasantness out of my mind so that I can make a good impression on this Edmund Morcilla fellow.

Even in his semi-solitude Chandagnac had heard of Morcilla - the big, bald, smooth-faced rich man who had sailed into Kingston Harbor late in November and was reputed to be investing heavily in all sorts of Caribbean concerns, from sugar to-land to slaves. And

Morcilla had last week actually written to Joshua Hicks, proposing a partnership in a land deal. Chandagnac had written back in eager agreement, for he saw Morcilla as a possible means of freedom from Ulysse Segundo; and when Morcilla had replied with a long, friendly letter in which he mentioned his desire to marry some spirited, preferably auburn-haired young lady, Chandagnac was so anxious to ingratiate himself that in his next letter he actually mentioned the young lady "with a slight touch of brain-fever" who was staying at his house. In the same letter he invited Morcilla to his Christmas dinner party, and Chandagnac was so pleased when Morcilla wrote back to accept the invitation that he didn't even let himself worry about Morcilla's postscript, in which the wealthy man expressed a strong interest in meeting the young lady.

A lance of red sunlight in the corner of his left eye snapped him out of his reverie, and when he raised the telescope this time he kept it raised, for the ship was moving past his cliff-perch, showing him her port profile. It did seem to have caught its share of the storm - several spars were broken, and much of the rigging had simply been hacked short and tied off, and somehow one of the lower foremast sails had torn free and become tangled in the standing rigging, and now formed a sort of tent around the crosstree platform - but he could clearly see men on the deck. He scanned these eagerly, bracing the telescope barrel on a ballata tree branch to keep it steady, and in moments he was sure he had spotted Segundo.

The man was standing by the foremast with his back to the shore, but Chandagnac recognized the figure, the clothes, and the white hair - and then Segundo turned around to face the cliff, and Chandagnac laughed with relief, for there was no mistaking that craggy face and that intent stare. While Chandagnac watched, Segundo bent his left knee and lifted his foot up onto one of the rail-stanchion stumps, and, though he kept his right hand in his coat pocket, he waved broadly with his left, nodding reassuringly all the while.

Chandagnac waved the telescope over his head, even though it was unlikely that the gesture would be seen, and he didn't even frown when the cylinder slipped from his cold-numbed fingers and spun away to crash to bits on the rocks below. Whistling cheerfully, he turned away from the sea and strode toward the waiting carriage.

And Shandy, concealed on the cross-tree platform behind the roped-back forecourse sail, all at once sagged limp in the bindings that moored him to the mast, as the long held off rainbow glitter of unconsciousness finally filled his vision and overwhelmed him. His hands slipped off the blood-slick marionette cross he'd made, and it balanced for a moment on the yardarm, and then slipped off to one side and hung there, making the puppet on the deck below suddenly assume a startling posture: Hurwood's corpse, though still held more or less upright by the twine puppet strings, was now leaning backward at a forty-five degree angle, smiling confidently up into the sky and extending its left leg straight out and well above its head, like a dancer frozen in a particularly energetic moment.

For several seconds the pirates gaped at this prodigy, and then one of them crossed himself, drew his cutlass and chopped through the taut lengths of twine sewn through Hurwood's spine, scalp, limbs and left hand. The suddenly slack twine sprang upward, lashing Shandy across the cheek, and Hurwood's head fell loosely back and the body rattled and thumped onto the deck. With a buzz of twine running over the yardarm, the marionette cross came down and whacked the deck a moment later. The body lay sprawled loose as a broken doll, for rigor mortis had set in, and Shandy had had to do some work with a saw before he'd got busy with his needle and twine.

Roused by the sting of the whipping twine, Shandy blinked around and began trying to stand up and get his weight off the rope that was looped under his arms.

"Fling that overboard," said Skank on the deck below, pointing at Hurwood's abused corpse.

"No!" screamed Shandy, almost losing consciousness again from the effort of it.

The pirates stared up at him.

"Not ... his body," Shandy grated, still trying to get his feet onto the yardarm, "nor one drop ... damn these ropes! ... of his blood ... are to wind up in the sea." His feet under him at last, he straightened up, took several deep breaths, and then looked down. "You understand me? He's to be cremated when you put me ashore."

"Ashore," echoed one old pirate wearily. "You're goin' ashore."

"Of course I am," growled Shandy. He fumbled ineffectually at the knots in the ropes that moored him, hampered by dimming vision and bleeding hands. "Somebody climb up here and help me down. I've got - " He felt unconsciousness crowd him again, but he pushed it back. "I've got a dinner party to go to."

It took the Carmichael several hours to get to the southern end of Kingston Harbor, for the ship was unable to tack its bow across the wind, and so had to loop back on its path and jibe all the way around in order to switch the wind from one side of the bow to the other; and since the wind was blowing at them straight southwest from Kingston, they had to do a painstaking series of mile-wide figure-eights to move upwind, and the trip was sixty miles of constant work rather than the nearly straight twenty-five mile run it would have been for an undamaged vessel. Shandy had plenty of time to clip and shave off his gray-shot, salt-stiff beard, dress in some of Hurwood's clothes, and pull a pair of kid leather gloves on over his bandaged hands.

The sun was high when finally he was able to stare across the harbor's forest of masts to the red roofs of the city and, beyond and above them, the purple and green mountains. It occurred to him that he was finally seeing Kingston, and from the deck of the Carmichael ... albeit six months late. He remembered how he and Beth Hurwood had prematurely celebrated the imminent end of the voyage by tossing maggoty biscuits to a hovering sea gull, and how he'd planned to dine ashore that night with Captain Chaworth.

He waved to the helmsman not to go in any closer, and then he turned to Skank. "Have 'em wrap up Hurwood and put him in the boat before you lower it. And then lower it carefully. Now I'll need somebody to row me ashore - then you take the Carmichael south around Wreck Reef and wait for us there ... and if we're not back to the ship by midmorning tomorrow, take off - we'll probably have been captured, and with all these Navy craft about, this ship's peril will get worse with every passing hour. You'll be captain, Skank. Run far away, split up the loot, and go live like kings somewhere. I don't know whether this has been a violation of your pardons or not, so go somewhere they never heard of any of us. Get fat and lie in the sun and get drunk every day, because you'll be drinking for me too."

Skank probably wasn't capable of tears, but his narrow eyes were bright as he shook Shandy's hand. "Christ, Jack, you'll make it back. You've been in worse places."

Shandy grinned, lining his face deeply. "Yeah, you're right, quite a few of 'em. Well, have the lads get Hurwood - "

"Leave the body aboard for now," interrupted a rumbling voice from the belowdecks ladder. Both Shandy and Skank recognized the voice, and watched in horrified astonishment as Woefully Fat climbed ponderously up the ladder. The giant black man had draped himself toga-fashion in a section of sail that covered the jagged spar-end protruding from his chest, and he moved more slowly than usual, but otherwise he looked the same as he always had - strong, stern and impassive. "Burn Hurwood's body later on. Ah'll row you ashore now. Ah'm gonna die on Jamaican soil."

Shandy exchanged a lost look with Skank, but then shrugged and nodded. "I, uh, guess I won't need a rower after all. Well - "

"Sure you will, Jack," Skank said. "It seems like Davies' bocor is stayin' ashore, an' you can't row back with your hands all cut up."

"That'll be tomorrow. I'll manage." He turned nervously to the bocor. Remembering for once that the man was deaf, Shandy made an "after you" gesture toward the rail and the boat that swung from the davit cranes.

Chapter Twenty-Eight

The Carmichael jibed around after lowering the boat, and the wind filled her sails and she had disappeared around the southern point before Woefully Fat had taken fifty strokes at the oars. Shandy sat back on the stern thwart and, keeping his eyes off the bocor's weirdly placid face, allowed himself to enjoy the sun and the view and the spicy smells on the breeze. Now that the incriminating ship had retreated, they were just two men in a rowboat - though a look inside Woefully Fat's toga would no doubt surprise even the most worldly harbor-master - and Shandy thought it likely that they would be able to land without arousing any particular interest.

Even when a Royal Navy sloop came angling toward them, her brightwork gleaming and her tall jib-sail intimidatingly white in the noon sun, he thought she might well be leaving the harbor on some errand that had nothing to do with him; it wasn't until the sloop cut in across the rowboat's bow and then loosed all sails and came rocking to a halt in front of it that Shandy began to worry. He caught Woefully Fat's eye and managed to convey to the bocor that there was an obstacle ahead.

Woefully Fat looked over his shoulder, nodded, and lifted the oars out of the water. A few seconds later the rowboat collided gently with the Navy vessel.

Flanked by half a dozen sailors with pistols, a young officer stepped to the sloop's rail and stared down at the two men in the rowboat. "Are you John Chandagnac, also known as Jack Shandy, and the witch doctor known as Grievously Fat?" he asked nervously.

"We goin' to Jamaica," interrupted the bocor in the middle of the officer's question.

Most Popular