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The dust of 100 dogs, p.20
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       The Dust of 100 Dogs, p.20

           A. S. King
 
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  Why did you say that? You don’t love him!

  “Shut up. He’s lonely. It just came out.”

  It came out because you do love him Fred, don’t you?

  “I do not.”

  You do. Admit it. You love him. It’s okay. It’s nothing to be ashamed about.

  “I don’t. I just said it because—” Fred paused. He didn’t know why he’d said it.

  He’ll be really pissed off about you killing the dog, you know.

  “I didn’t kill the dog.”

  He’ll see the glass on the patio.

  “I’ll clean it up in the morning.”

  To hide the evidence of you killing the dog?

  “He’s not dead.”

  Prove it.

  Fred got up from his chair and limped down the stairs and to the side door of the condo. He opened the door and called the dog. Rusty didn’t appear. He waited a few minutes, trying to focus in the darkness, looking for any movement, and then went into Winston’s kitchen and fetched a tin of food. He brought it back to the door and opened it slowly, making sure the dog would hear the familiar sound of the can’s lid popping. But the dog didn’t bounce out from anywhere. Fred left the tin of food by the door and went back upstairs.

  I told you. The dog is dead.

  “Well, you’re wrong. You’re wrong about a lot of things.”

  What things?

  “Everything.”

  Like what, Fred? What am I wrong about?

  Fred turned the office television off with the remote and limped to his bedroom.

  Tell me! What am I wrong about?

  “That girl, for one. You said she was too young, and she’s not. You’re always saying I’m a queer, and I’m not. You’re wrong all the time!”

  Not about the dog.

  “Whatever. Just shut up and let me sleep, will you?”

  Fred slept soundly and didn’t worry about Rusty once. When he woke up the next morning at five, he’d even forgotten about his injury until he saw a huge stain in the bed where his foot had been—a wide circle of brown dried blood. He examined the carpet and saw that he’d bled there too, and left footprints to and from the bathroom during the night. “God damn it!” he said, propping himself up and pulling his sopping foot onto his other leg.

  Fred stripped the bed of its creamy cotton sheets. He tried to remember the trick his mother taught him. Was it cold water or hot water? Baking soda or lemon juice? He dropped the sheet at the bedroom door and removed the now-brown washcloth from his foot. The bleeding had pretty much stopped, but the wound had become a swollen, gaping hole overnight and Fred worried, again, that it might be infected. He searched the bathroom for something strong and found Listerine. Before he poured it over his foot, he took a long swig from the bottle.

  “GOD DAMN IT!” Fred screamed as his foot recoiled from the shock. If it stings this badly, it must be working, he thought as he fought back tears.

  While David went to fetch Seanie, Emer went to her cabin and tidied herself. She brushed her hair and applied a dot of perfume oil to her neck, her armpits, and her knickers. She worried.

  “What if he hates me as this murderous woman?” she asked herself, and then tried to remember the girl she was when they last saw each other. A simple girl. An orphan girl. An owned girl. She felt better once she rationalized things—surely Seanie had some bad history under his belt by now, too. Perhaps worse than killing many men and plundering Spanish ships.

  †

  David was having trouble thinking about the plan to sink the Spanish fleet. He was too busy rowing between large boats to retrieve Seanie Carroll from the Virginia and feeling replaced. He tried not to feel too sorry for himself, but it wasn’t working. Even though he knew that Emer never returned his feelings, he loved her more than he’d ever thought he could love a woman. Now he would have to give her up—after all his efforts to impress her! After all his work to assemble the fleet! How unlucky could he get?

  Things got worse once Seanie climbed into the rowboat. David grunted and smirked—the closest to a welcoming smile he could manage—and Seanie looked pained and impatient. The two rowed violently back to the Vera Cruz, not a word between them.

  David reluctantly showed him to Emer’s cabin and knocked. Emer called out for them to come in. She got up from her bed and hugged Seanie tightly, then held him at arm’s length and looked at him, then hugged him again. Seanie grinned and laughed loudly, shook his head in disbelief, and blinked back tears.

  “Seanie, this is David, my first mate and best friend. David, this is Seanie Carroll, the man I once told you about.” The two men shook hands and nodded to each other. David left as soon as he could.

  Seanie sat in the armchair next to Emer’s bunk and stared at her in the lamplight, smiling. She found herself crying, and then embracing him again, weak and sad as much as relieved and happy. She’d left her cape hanging on its hook and tried not to seem like the monster she’d become, tried to seem like a Connacht woman, or like someone who might have just thrown grain to the hens or washed the clothes in the river.

  “How in the world did you land here?” she asked in rusty Gaelic.

  Seanie laughed. “I was meant to be looking for you,” he said. “In Paris.”

  “You were in Paris?”

  “Well, no. The boat never went to Paris. I wanted to find you and bring you home, Emer. As it was, the boat I found was going to Barbados. I had very little English,” he explained. Every time he looked at her, he shook his head and sighed. He held her right hand in his left and squeezed it with each sigh. “I worked three years on the plantations there before I finally got work as a marine on board a supply fluyte.”

  Emer thought of all the marines she’d killed on board supply fluytes. Eyeballs of such men stared at her from her embroidered cape. “That’s dangerous work,” she said.

  “Not half as dangerous as being a feared legend of the sea, I’d say.” He motioned toward her foot.

  Emer didn’t want to tell him about her missing toes. “Oh. I guess I have a long story too.”

  Seanie had stared at her long enough. He’d watched her face make familiar expressions in the yellow glow as her eyes sparkled at him. Something told him to kiss her, then, and he did. It was a long kiss. It was a mature kiss—how parents kiss—how grandparents kiss. He moved onto the bed and twisted to face her, and held her so tightly she was uncomfortable. Uncomfortable, but didn’t care—just as she didn’t care all those nights in the Connacht cave, when her arm went numb beneath her from lying on his chest.

  They lay down to face each other. Seanie propped his head up and Emer cuddled into her pillow. “And what’s your long story, then? How did my sweet Irish girl turn into a frightful pirate?”

  Emer smiled. “I’m not that damned, am I?”

  “It’s not so bad, to be feared out here.”

  “Well, it is if you’re just a nice Irish girl like me.” She giggled. “Oh, I don’t know! Where do I begin, Seanie? Paris? The horrible man who my uncle sold me to? I never had the chance to see him twice, I ran so fast. After a year begging the city streets in snow, I took the boat to Tortuga. They needed women to breed.”

  She shifted uncomfortably and looked away from Seanie’s stare. “No different from Paris, really,” she added. “I ran so fast, and then ended up here. And now it’s the bloody Spanish. Have you heard the stories of how they torture the natives? What they do to their slaves? Worse than anything we’ve seen, and how can that be? I tell you, it will be quite a day when I sink the whole bloody fleet to the bottom of the sea! Quite a day!”

  Seanie kissed her again, for her enthusiasm. He remembered the day she first spoke to him, how excited she was and how her eyes beamed with the same zeal. Funny how things change, he thought. Funny how the same childish eyes could be so bruta
l, those eyes that once burned with marriage dreams—funny how now, although they pictured something completely different, those eyes somehow seemed just as sweet.

  Emer remembered her foot and pointed. “That, I got in prison. It’s only because I’ve spent the last year in a dark cell that I look so like a ghost. I lost two toes. Just gone. Now I’ve only three there and a limp for life. I’m lucky I didn’t die, though, or so the doctor tells me.”

  “I really can’t believe it’s you,” Seanie said.

  She smiled and caressed his bare arm. “It’s really me. God, I missed you, Seanie Carroll. I never thought I’d see you again.” Tears welled. “And now we’re about to make history! The biggest robbery on the high sea!” Emer reached over him for the rum bottle and took a swig, then passed it to him.

  “And what do you think they’ll have on board?” Seanie asked.

  She stopped to think and then shrugged. “I don’t rightly know, but I expect it will be worth it anyway! So far, the Spanish have given me some rare and wonderful things, so I have high expectations.” She reached under her bunk and slid her chest out to where she could open it. She pulled out a black pearl. “You know, these are more precious than diamonds.”

  Seanie rolled it between his thumb and fingers. She had always been so clever and headstrong. He was glad she’d landed here and not in a place where none of it would matter, like as the owned wife of any man. He even half wondered if his own intentions had been reasonable. His faraway dreams of marriage and children seemed more like a prison than paradise for her now.

  When he didn’t speak for a while, Emer turned to him. “Are you all right, Seanie?”

  “It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to me, it is. I never once thought that joining a fleet of pirates would actually bring me to you! Can you believe I half considered leaving the ship before we came out here? Because of my silly Irish morals?”

  Emer’s silly Irish morals were hidden somewhere dark alongside her mother, so she tried not to think about them. “Well, we’re here now. We’d better get used to it,” she said. “I should warn you that I’m never letting you out of my sight again, long as I live!”

  “Ha!” Seanie laughed. “Well, I should warn you of the same! Even if you tire of me!”

  He grabbed her and squeezed her tightly, tickling her and kissing her face repeatedly. She laughed and thrashed until he stopped tickling. They kissed again and again, as if they had suddenly become a couple who were celebrating a fortieth wedding anniversary. It seemed as natural to them as breathing, this loving each other—and they gasped for air as if they’d been under deep water for six long years, frantically trying to resurface.

  As Emer lay in her bunk with Seanie, she heard her crew having their party and realized she was being utterly selfish staying below deck. She wanted to find David and say something to him, so he would know she was sorry. She knew that he loved her. He hadn’t been hiding it.

  She and Seanie got up and he helped her with her cape, commenting on the outstanding embroidery work. He wondered how she would fight these Spanish marines with only one foot, and made a comment about minding her during the upcoming battle. When they got to the deck the party was in full swing, men falling about laughing, a few fighting, a few singing jolly songs. Emer held Seanie’s hand, and this was widely noticed.

  David was standing alone at the stern of the Vera Cruz. He seemed stranded there, stuck inside a web of ropes. Emer left Seanie with the singing men and went to him.

  “There are Spanish ships twenty miles away, sir. Saw them with my own eyes, I did.”

  “David, you’re drunk!”

  “Aren’t you, sir?”

  Emer nodded. “I have to talk to you, David.”

  “With respect, sir. Save your words.”

  “I know it’s not fair, David. But you always knew this might happen.”

  He looked at her and smirked. “I never knew a man could come back from the dead! No, sir! I never knew that!”

  They stood, silently looking out at the horizon as they had a thousand times before.

  “David?”

  “What?”

  “I’m sorry.”

  He softened. “I only wish things could be different.”

  “I know.”

  “If you don’t mind, sir, I suppose I’ll be finding other work when we’re through.”

  “After all your work to make this fleet? You can’t!”

  “I can settle down and find my place. I suppose you’ll be doing the same thing.” She didn’t answer. David looked out to sea. “I’d say we’ll be pounding them before morning, with this wind! It’s our lucky day!”

  Emer tried again to meet David’s eyes, but he dropped a wall between them. She backed off and acted professional. She even said, “Carry on” when she walked away.

  The men were drinking at an awesome pace. The baskets of food were empty and Emer watched as they danced and sang, knowing that these strangers were willing to die for her—a thing more noble than she could imagine.

  By the time Emer’s fleet surrounded the Spanish that afternoon, the same men were quiet and ready. Their twenty ships crept toward the enemy on all sides, tacking briskly to make time. The Spanish could see them, of course, and their only chance to save themselves was to outrun them. As Emer’s ships moved close enough to fire their cannons, the Spanish ordered as many tons of cargo overboard as they could. Shirtless men appeared on the decks, throwing crate after crate of Caribbean sugar and rum into the sea. But no amount of shed weight could help them now.

  Chain shot ripped through the Spanish sails, three or four tons at a time from all directions. One of Emer’s fleet had already collided with a slow Spanish frigate, causing a backup on the eastern side of the battle.

  “Fire!” David screamed.

  “Men! Ready your muskets!” Emer joined in, positioning herself directly between Seanie and another man, propped to balance with one foot.

  She grabbed a gun and began aiming for the crew of the nearest ship, a great galleon that shone with gold paint. She fired, reloaded, and fired again, and when the cannons finally ripped through enough sail to stop the fleet from gaining any more sea, she dropped her musket and turned to David. She ordered a switch to grapeshot—a cheap mix of everything imaginable: nails, chips of iron, even small rocks and broken glass—to flatten the Spanish crews. Any man on deck would suffer, and Emer wanted her enemy to suffer a long time before she boarded and put her men’s lives at risk. Seanie continued to shoot with a long musket, aiming for the men who were yelling orders.

  The hours passed quickly. Her fleet split the Spanish into four smaller groups, picking off the weakest first. Emer led her fleet round and round the Spanish ships, knocking down at least half their crews with her grapeshot. Ship by ship, her marines boarded, cut down the Spanish sailors, and pillaged. When the marines returned, she switched to plain round or double shot and plunged the plundered ships into the sea. One Spanish frigate on the west side had already sunk. Two others had moved in to rescue stranded crew and were being singled out for boarding. Each of her four groups did this—board, kill, pillage, sink—until, by sunset, nearly half the Spanish fleet was sunk. Toward the east, Emer noticed two galleons separating from the melee.

  “Those two, David. Take me to them.” David ordered the crew of the Vera Cruz to make it so. Two other frigates followed.

  Emer readied her cutlass and pistol and gave Seanie her long-handled axe. As they approached, one of the Spanish ships fired its three port cannons, and Emer ducked. A single ball of burning iron landed on deck with a dull thud, only cracking the planks beneath it. She watched it roll toward the mast and then roll back again, burning a groove into the wood in its path. A sailor fetched a small keg of seawater and tossed it over the ball, creating a sort of steamy mirage of the battle. Still balanced b
etween the two men, Emer ordered her crew to board the shining galleon just as the red shine of Caribbean dusk touched the waves.

  Her crew piled onto the ship two by two and began taking down every man they met. Emer and Seanie climbed aboard with the last batch of her marines.

  But when they landed safely on the galleon’s deck, she realized that swordplay was impossible with only one good foot. Walking had been easy, yes, but this was not walking. She tried to jump from one plank to another, flinching in pain from her two missing toes. She managed to skewer a Spanish sailor or two, and clubbed one across the face to knock him out, but she couldn’t swashbuckle like she used to. She stayed alert and defended herself in the dark, mostly helping Seanie and the other marines. A hack here, a slap there, a few clunks and swift punch in the balls, until—eighty-four dead men later—the ship was hers.

  As the sun rose, Emer helped search the galleon even though she was in pure agony from the right knee down. David saw her limping up the final steps to the deck and put his arm around her waist. Where is this Seanie fellow now? he asked himself, half hoping Seanie was floating dead in the sea. His face was covered in blood, a deep cut had been slashed into his scalp, and he wore a strip of cloth around his head to stench the bleeding.

  “Easy now, Captain. You need to get that foot up, you do.”

  “It’s done, David! We did it!”

  “Aye, sir, we did.” He smiled. “Tis a glorious day to be alive.”

  Seanie arrived then, much to David’s disappointment, and helped balance Emer on the ropes. She smiled and squeezed David’s hand. “You deserve the captain’s share of this. I had little to do with our success.”

  “I’m sure the officer’s share will be more than enough,” he answered soberly. “You fought well under the circumstances.”

  “I mean what I say, friend. You’ll have my share and that’s the end of it.” Emer took a deep breath as they lifted her onto the deck. She slipped her aching body over the edge, landed on her good foot, and hopped toward the forecastle landing with David still holding her under her arms.

 
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