“She’s a fine ship,” Isketerol said. “What does this name mean,
William Walker thought. He’d heard the word in a movie once… yeah, HBO Classics. The one with Katharine Hepburn?
“Ah, a good name for a ship!”
The yacht had about a hundred feet at the waterline, two-masted and flush-decked except for a low cabin directly ahead of the wheel and binnacle, with a burden of a hundred and ten tons. Not as fast as the
The deck was broken by a low coaming, its cover aside for the present. Hammering and sawing noises came from within, where carpenters were installing a proper hold. The cargo for it waited on the dockside where the ship was moored, under an improvised loading crane also under construction. There were ingots of pig iron from the
“Bitch,” he muttered to himself.
“Come on,” he said to Isketerol.
Careful, careful, be
They walked up the gangplank onto the ship, dodging men and women with tools and materials for the refit, and walked back to the little fantail behind the wheel. There was an awning stretched over it like a tent with the mizzensail boom as a ridgepole, and a couple of chairs. The day was hot and clear, with little trace of yesterday’s fog; the breeze off the harbor smelled of fish and salt and tar. Gulls went noisily overhead, their harsh cries thick in the air. A big load of barrel staves and planks sat on the wharf not far from him, just in from Providence Base, adding the vanilla tang of fresh-cut oak to the mixture; beside it were oozing casks of pitch and turpentine from Cape Cod. A chattering party of junior high students were sitting around mending twine nets. Hammering and the hiss of the last cutting torches sounded from the ferry’s upperworks as teams labored to disassemble it from the top down; carts were going back and forth with loads of steel plate, beam, and girder as the work went on. Other working parties were ripping the air-conditioning and partitions out of
Isketerol sat and accepted a bottle of beer from the cooler; he went on in the Mycenaean Greek that Walker now spoke well, since Iraiina lacked the concepts and vocabulary for much of what they had to discuss.
“I have confirmed what you told me,” Isketerol said. “They plot to keep me here, always among strangers, never to return to my home, fearing what I might do with the knowledge I’ve gained.” He bared his teeth. “By Arucuttag of the Sea, they’ll regret that.”
“So they will,” Walker agreed.
“We can help each other, then,” Walker said. “You need a friend who will guard your back, and so do I.” Solemnly, they clasped hands. “Now, tell me more of the lands of Mycenae. How would they welcome a stranger with powerful gifts?”
“No, I don’t think you should seek out the Achaean lords right away,” the Tartessian said thoughtfully. “They’re too hard and greedy, and not very forethoughtful, most of them… But they hire many mercenaries from the barbarian lands.”
Walker sipped at the beer. It was too sweet without the hops, but otherwise not bad; only middling cold, though. There were plans for ice pits to store frozen lake ice over the summer; that could probably be done in the Aegean, too.
Provided he had an edge… Leaton was already working on a musket, and anyone who could cast a bronze statue could make cannon. Sulfur was probably available, and there were black-powder enthusiasts on the island who knew the whole technique of making gunpowder; he’d drop in on them and pump them for tips. But for all that he’d need a secure base for a while, and preferably more men, as well, before he showed up in the Mediterranean. Isketerol needed a sweetener too.
“The question is, where to get a strong band of men?” Walker said. “I can’t recruit more than a few here. Someone would talk, no matter how careful I was.”
“There is the White Isle,” Isketerol pointed out. “And the lands around it. Of course, for that you would require a ship, and then passage from the White Isle to the Middle Sea.”
“How would you like this ship for your own?” Walker said.
The Tartessian raised the beer bottle to his lips and looked out over the blue horizon. “Tell me more, my friend,” he said.
Nantucket was never hot for long. Fog had rolled in and filled the streets as the sun fell; the air was cool, cool enough that the small blaze she’d kindled in the bedroom fireplace was pleasant, even on a summer’s night.
Alston sipped at her bourbon-and-water and opened the first page of
“Not in the mood,” she murmured after a while, setting down the novel.
She picked up another volume; her favorite poet, something she’d stumbled across in a little out-of-the way used-book store in Boston once, many years ago. She’d opened it in idle curiosity, and fallen in love at once; now she whispered aloud, hardly needing to read:
High on the bridge of Heaven whose Eastern bars
Exclude the interchange of Night and Day,
Robed with faint seas and crowned with quiet stars
All great Gods dwell to whom men prayed or pray.
No winter chills, no fear or fever mars
Their grand and timeless hours of pomp and play;
Some drive about the Rim wind-golden cars
Or, shouting, laugh Eternity away.
The daughters of their pride,
Their flame-white bodies pearled with falling spray,
Send all their bright hair streaming
Down where the worlds lie gleaming,
And draw their mighty lovers close and say:
“Come over by the stream: one hears
The speech of Nations broken in the chant of Spheres.”
“Damn, can’t escape the blue-water-eyed daughters,” she said. “Ah well.” An immense and not unpleasant sadness filled her, like the soft silvery fog creeping through the streets outside. She went on:
Between the pedestals of Night and Morning,
Between red death and radiant Desire
With not one sound of triumph or of warning
Stands the great sentry on the Bridge of Fire.
O transient soul, thy thought with dreams adorning,
Cast down the laurel, and unstring the lyre:
The wheels of Time are turning, turning, turning,
The slow stream channels deep, and doth not tire
Gods on their Bridge above Whispering lies and love
Shall mock your passage down ‘the sunless river
Which, rolling all its streams,
Shall take you, king of dreams, –
Unthroned and unapproachable for ever-
To where the kings who dreamed of old
Whiten in habitations monumental cold.
“Seize the day, in other words,” she told herself. Nobody else was here tonight; Rapczewicz was on board
“I’m back,” she called, from the entrance hall below. Alston heard the door click shut, and feet bound up the staircase and down the hall. “Foggy out tonight.”
“Hello, ‘dapa. So you are, so it is.”
The Fiernan was wearing a knee-length T-shirt and plastic sandals, with her hair loose and damp around her shoulders, the yellow of it darkened by the water. She came in and sat cross-legged by the fire, holding her hands out to either side with the hair draped over them to dry. The cerulean-blue eyes looked up at her, vivid by contrast with the summer tan, warm and full of affection.
We that were friends tonight have found
A fear, a secret and a shame:
I am on fire with that soft sound
You make, in uttering my name…
It seemed even the poet had turned against her tonight, she decided ruefully.
“I talked to Cindy Ganger at the baths,” Swindapa said after a while, smiling. “She asked me if I was your girlfriend.”
Alston choked, spraying bourbon across the page. Swindapa jumped up in alarm and pounded her helpfully on the back, then sat down beside her on the couch.
“Are you all right?” she asked, a little frown of worry between her brows.
“Yes. Just, mmm, surprised,” Alston said.
When she looked up, Swindapa had an arm draped over the back of the blue Directoire sofa and one leg hooked up under the other. She was still smiling. “I don’t really understand you Eagle People,” she said after a moment. “I don’t know how to… hear what you’re saying when you’re not speaking, not really well. So I make mistakes like that.”
“Body language?” Alston said, her mouth a little dry. She took another sip of the whiskey. Swindapa picked the glass out of her hand and sipped herself before returning it.
“Yes, that’s a good way to say it-body language.” The smile lessened. “I’d like to be your girlfriend, you know. But you move away when I touch you, even though I think you like me. Back home it’s bad manners to come right out and ask someone older than you-you have to wait for them to ask you when you show you want them to. I keep showing you, and you never ask!”
“Don’t you like me?” Swindapa asked, her eyes going wide and beginning to fill. “I thought you were getting to like me, not just feel sorry for me.”
“I know you want me. I can tell that.”
Alston’s tongue locked on a denial. She hated lying, particularly to friends. The necessity of doing so in the service had rasped her soul.
Swindapa frowned. “I’m not a child,” she said angrily. “I wish you wouldn’t act as if I was. I’ve got the Spear Mark; lots of girls my age back in the White Isle have babies and their own hearths. Do you Eagle People have some rule against sleeping with people who are your guests?”
“No, we don’t, not exactly,” Alston said.
“Is it because I’m ugly, too pale, not beautiful like you?”
Swindapa’s voice took on a note of exasperation. “Then
Alston opened her mouth to reply, then closed it. It was true; Swindapa was young, but not a child, not in the way an American her age would be. She wasn’t someone under Alston’s command, either, nor a dependent. What reasons did that leave?
Minutes later she sighed breathlessly into the fine-spun blond hair. Deer Dancer certainly didn’t need any instruction on kissing. “I’ve wanted to do that for some time now.”
“Me too.” Softly. “I was afraid I never could, after the Iraiina. But I can.” They kissed again.
Alston felt a cold knot untie itself in her chest, then travel down from neck to spine as the warm closeness dissolved doubt and tension. After a moment the hug turned into a moving embrace. The T-shirt floated to the floor. She gave a sigh of wonder as her hands glided over the Fiernan’s back and stomach and moved up to cup her breasts. Swindapa wiggled and gave a little chuckle of delight, arching into the caress. Her hands began undoing the buttons of Alston’s uniform tunic. After a moment:
“How do you take this off?”
Fingers touched her. “Does that feel nice?”
“Stand up for a second, I can’t get at this buckle.”
“Oh, good! I
They lay on the bed, wrapping arms and legs around each other, kissing and nuzzling. A thought struck Alston:
“Ah… ‘dapa, you
“Of course. I told you about my boyfriend, didn’t I?”
“Ah… I meant with another woman.”
“Oh.” Alston shivered as the other’s fingers traced up her spine and lips nibbled down her neck.
“Not really,” Swindapa whispered.
Tickling fingers found the base of her spine. Alston shivered again and arched her back.
“It was dark… some friends, after a feast, lots of mead… you know how it is. Does it matter?”
“Not really,” Alston laughed. The Fiernan Bohuguli seemed a lot like Trobriand Islanders in some ways.
“I like it better with these wonderful lamps,” Swindapa said. She looked down to where their breasts pressed together. “See how we go together, like the moon and the night sky. Isn’t it pretty?”
“Yes,” Alston said throatily.
She pressed the girl back and stroked her lightly with her fingertips, just touching the fine down-hairs. Lips touched breasts and tongue curled around a nipple. The other’s soft explosive sigh made her own skin tingle from head to toe, like being caressed with heated mink gloves. After a while she worked her way downward, caressing the other’s inner thighs and urging them apart. The hands that stroked her head trembled, and she smelled the delicious musky scent of desire. She slid down, stroked a hand onto either hip, and began. Swindapa gave a shocked cry of surprise and delight at the delicate caress; then a whimpering moan.
“Yeah, it was a lot too much like hard work for my taste,” the man said.
William Walker nodded, straddling the chair and resting his elbows on the back. “Over there in Europe, they’ve got peasants to do this sort of thing,” he said.
They were watching the parade from a roadside cafe on Easy Street, before it turned west on Main and stopped in the upper section near the Pacific Bank. The floats were a little amateurish, made up with what was to hand. The commonest theme was sheaves of grain, appropriate considering this was a harvest festival; some of them were made up into big human figures, and everyone wore a wreath of it. Most of the floats were horse-drawn, apart from one pulled by a chuffing steam traction engine, a miniature model about the size of a Volkswagen. People milled along in the parade as well, carrying torches; the school band tootled away. At the front rode the Bronze Ager, Swindapa-wearing a wreath of wheat around her hair and carrying a sheaf, and a sash with “Best Reaper” on it over a white dress. She was laughing and waving, and the hair falling past her shoulders had the same wheat-blond color as the ripe grain she carried in the crook of one arm.
Chief Cofflin was waiting up on Main; there would be a speech and a barbecue, patting everyone on the head for working hard.
The man-Cuddy, he was called, Bill Cuddy-flexed his hands. “I can still feel my blisters,” he said.
“Yeah, like I said, it’s ridiculous we should be doing this stuff, as if we were Stone Age wogs,” Walker went on. “I mean, think of what our technology and what we know could do over across the ocean. Those spear-chuckers would be
Cuddy looked at Walker, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully. He was a nondescript-looking man a little older than the Coast Guard officer, brown of hair and beard, wary gray eyes in a tanned face.
“Look, Will,” he said. “You’ve been fan-dancing around this for days now, you and your friends there.” He nodded; Seaman Rodriguez and Cadet McAndrews sat behind Walker, lounging at their ease. “Gold and dancing girls, yeah, it sounds good. A lot better than shoveling shit for a living. How, though? Cut to the chase, man.”
“Okay, Bill,” Walker said. “You want to stay here all your life?”
“Not particularly,” Cuddy said. “Leaton’s a pretty good boss, but I don’t want to be a machinist, it’s just the best thing available. And I certainly don’t want to bust my ass cutting fucking wheat or chopping down trees. On the other hand, I don’t want to go live in a mud hut, either, even if it’s the biggest fucking hut in the village.”
Walker nodded with a charming grin. “There’s a lot more than mud huts over there, in some places,” he said. “There’s my friend Isketerol’s hometown, for example, or Greece. Shit, they’ve even got running water in the Mycenean palaces-flush toilets. Which we don’t, anymore. Plus we can get the natives to build what we want. Plenty of places a bunch of us could pretty well write our own tickets.”
“If the locals didn’t
“Timid?” Walker asked, a slight edge of mockery in his tone.
“No, just cautious. We don’t have any fucking tanks, man.”
“Yeah, that’s a point. That’s why it’d have to be done in a group, with some organization.”
“And you to head up the organization?”
He shrugged. “Somebody has to,” he said. “Why not me? I’ve got the training, I know some history, and I’ve learned the languages. There’ll be plenty for everyone when it comes time to share out.”
Cuddy sipped at his drink. “Why me?” he said.
“You don’t have any local ties, you’ve learned a lot of useful stuff from Leaton, and I think you’re the ambitious type… but reasonable about it,” Walker said. “And hell, it’s not even illegal. The law’s back up in the twentieth. Nobody declared Cofflin’s goddam Town Meeting a sovereign state. The captain’s authority came from the Department of Transportation and the UCMJ; it ended when we got shoved here. They’ve got no right to tell us we have to stay here and make like farmers.”
The other man put down his glass. “They’ve got the power, though. Most people are behind them. What if I go to the chief, or your captain, and tell them what you’ve told me?”
“Then I’d be in deep shit, and you’d be back to blisters.”
Walker said. The grin slipped off his face, leaving an expression more like something out of the deep woods. “For the rest of your life.”
Cuddy looked slightly nervous for the first time.
“Okay, I’ll think about it.” He looked around. “Even with things the way they are, this place still has some of the comforts of home. Doctors, for instance.”
Walker flipped one palm up. “Give me credit for some brains, Cuddy.”
“Ah, right, you’ll have gone looking for other people who know things you need. Like, I did a hitch in the Crotch, too.”
Walker clapped. “Give the Marine a great big cigar!” he said dryly. “Semper Fi, mac. Now’s the time, Cuddy. Are you in, or are you out? Last chance to be out and just keep your mouth shut. Once you’re in, you do it my way.”
Cuddy finished his drink and looked after the procession. The music and lights were fading into the darkness of the summer night, a little cool here near the waterfront even in this season. The road was littered, straw and flowers and fresh horse dung. Walker saw his face harden in decision.
“Okay,” he said. “You’ve got the brains for it, if you’ve come this far without getting caught, and you’ve got the balls for it, looks like.” He nodded and offered his hand. “I’m in… boss.”
“Kemosabe, me think it
“That’s right up there with ‘What you mean
September was a good time for a civic holiday; the grain harvest was in, and everything else was well in hand, well enough for the school year to be starting up again soon.
Private schemes were bubbling up on all sides: to make iceboxes to replace refrigerators; to cut and store ice in underground pits; to start a manufactory to weave sailcloth, once the flax was cut; another to put up a ropeworks-
Now at least he could deal with priority projects, like the schooners Marian wanted built, and public policy… and one policy was that everyone not superessential had to take a few days off after the harvest party.
The beach wasn’t crowded, there was too much of it and too few people for that, but there were parties clumped along it as far as he could see. Flying kites or playing volleyball, throwing Frisbees, playing the guitar and singing, or just sitting around talking. More out in the water swimming; Nantucket’s offshore water got fairly warm in the late summer, up in the seventies, in vivid contrast to most of the New England coast. From what he’d heard, there were even a few hardy souls
Bonfires cast sparks into the sunset, down the long curve to the point. The evening was warm enough for his T-shirt and jeans to be comfortable, or Martha’s single-piece bathing suit and sunrobe, or Marian Alston’s cycle shorts and muscle shirt. A rummage of children went by shrieking down at the water’s edge, chasing a soccer ball and kicking up spray. Their noise was soon lost in the vastness of sea and sky.
“Ah, the hell with it,” he said. “The only thing that really worries me is that Pamela Lisketter has shut up.”
He got up and went over to the pit. There was an art to a successful clambake. First you had to have lots of rock-weed, and after all the soul-butter he had to hand out in this damned politician’s job they’d saddled him with, wading out to collect it-Polpis Harbor was the best spot-was a relief. You couldn’t soft-talk a wave; go at it wrong and it dunked you, and that was that. The pit he’d dug in the sand behind a dune was properly shallow. He’d lined it with wood-driftwood was best-and then carefully packed the stones and surrounded them with a mound of more wood.
“That’s the tricky part,” he said to Alston as she came up, beer in hand. “You’ve got to build the rocks up so there’s room for air to filter around every rock, but not too much.”
“Looks hot enough,” Alston said. The rocks were beginning to flake, glowing and cracking with dangerous popping sounds.
“Ayup.” Cofflin cast a critical eye on them, then picked up a long-handled rake.
“I thought you’d be glad that Lisketter stopped talking about walking lightly and petitioning to stop all the trips to the mainland,” Martha said, bringing up the baskets of food. She was just beginning to show, a rounding out of the stomach.
“That’s my worry,” he said, pushing at the stones. “She’s stopped talking.” The rocks slid into a thick red-white glowing mass, evenly spread across the pit. “All right, let’s get the rockweed on.”
The bags of damp weed were ready. They tossed it in a thick layer over the rocks, and clouds of fragrant steam rose, like the distilled essence of the sea. “Quick, now,” he said.
The food went on top of the seaweed: clams in net bags, potatoes, young corn in the husk, a quartered turkey, lobsters still feebly waving their antennae in protest, and cheesecloth bags stuffed with homemade pork and venison sausage. Alston borrowed the rake and used it to add a thick closed clay pan with her contribution in it; more of her famous beaten biscuits. They threw another layer of weed on top, a tarpaulin over that, then spadefuls of sand.
Cofflin took up the thread again: “Lisketter’s about as stubborn as… as you, by God, Martha. If she’s given up speechifying at the Town Meeting, it’s because she’s got another angle.”
They returned to the campfire and its thermos of sassafras tea and cooler of beer. “The other environmentalists are treating her like a leper,” Martha said. “Dane and Terri and the rest.”
“Yeah, but they’re the sensible ones. Hell, they’re some of our most useful people. They
Alston settled back on an elbow, the blanket dimpling into the sand and her full African features thoughtful. “You’re the expert,” she said; he couldn’t tell if she meant on clambakes or political dissidents. Her eyes lifted.
Cofflin followed them. A group of youngsters in bathing suits-islanders and cadets-were throwing a football in an impromptu touch game. Swindapa leaped and caught it, ululated some ferocious-sounding warcry in her own language, and went pelting down the beach, fair hair flying in the wind. Doreen Rosenthal went after her, puffing.
By contrast Swindapa had filled out a little, and gotten even more deer-graceful, if that was possible.
“Lisketter’s been talking to me a good deal,” Martha said. “Doing some research.”
“Research on what?” Cofflin asked.
“Early Mesoamerican cultures,” she said.
“Oh, no, much earlier than that-Olmec and proto-Mayan, this century we’re in. Really trying to learn something, too. Her brother’s with her a fair amount of the time.”
Cofflin frowned. Pamela Lisketter was odd, but functional. Her brother David, on the other hand…
Ian Arnstein stirred beside his copy of
“Works up an appetite, snoozing does?” she said.
“You had me swimming for an implausibly long time earlier,” Arnstein said. “Have mercy on an antique. Besides, I just finished harvesting an area equivalent to the state of Kansas.”
Swindapa trotted up, throwing the football and a word over her shoulder. She settled down by Alston, giving her a quick brush of the lips and linking hands.
The island depended too much on what
“Furthermore, I wasn’t sleeping, I was thinking,” Ian said virtuously. He turned his head toward Cofflin and Alston. “We’ve finally figured out something about the Earth Folk language-it’s very distantly related to Basque.”
“Ah, that’s interesting,” Cofflin said. “Should we try to find someone who speaks Basque?”
“Tartessian is related to Basque too, we think, possibly ancestral to it,” Ian said. “Or closely related to the ancestor of Basque, whatever that is and wherever it’s spoken in this century. And therefore Tartessian is related to Fiernan. We think. And Iraiina, it’s probably a bridge dialect between proto-Germanic and proto-Celtic. How’s the clambake coming?”
“Dinner won’t be ready for a while,” Cofflin said. “Someone could hand around that bucket of oysters, though.”
The boats brought them back by the hundred bushel; they were common as dirt over on the mainland coast, but you had to be careful about the size if you planned to eat them on the half shell-many were so big the only way to approach them was with a knife and fork. He began opening these with a knife and handing them around; there was no butter for the bread, of course, but somebody had managed to scavenge a half-bottle of Tabasco sauce.
Swindapa looked down at her oyster and blinked dubiously. Then she primed it with a drop of the Tabasco, slid it into her mouth, and swallowed, imitating the others. “These things are… interesting, you’d say?”
“You don’t have them in Britain?” Ian asked, surprised.
“Not where I was live then-when-there-lived then, I mean, by the Great Wisdom. And I never visited the coast while they were in season.”
She looked at the next he handed her. Her eyes went wide, and she began to giggle helplessly. Alston bent her head, and the Fiernan whispered in her ear.
“… better warm.” He caught the last words; with the full message, Alston was fighting not to laugh.
Cofflin cut another slice from the loaf.
“Later, dear,” she said. “I’ll tell you later.”
The driftwood fire crackled, flames running blue and green, and the wind was full of the clean scent of the sea. Cofflin sank back on one elbow and watched the sun going down over the waves and headland to the west; Martha handed out blankets from the picnic hampers, and those in swimsuits wrapped them around their shoulders.
The knock was loud and insistent. “Ignore it and it’ll go away,” Cofflin advised. The three couples tried, but it came louder and louder.
“I’ll get it,” sighed Martha. “The doctor says walking is good for me.” She pushed herself to her feet, kissed Jared on the top of his head, and walked over to the curving staircase that led to the ground floor of the Athenaeum.
Marion Alston relaxed, tired after the long day at the beach, full from the clambake. She smiled with drowsy contentment, looking across the table at Swindapa. Her love life hadn’t been much; the disastrous marriage with John, the even more disastrous affair with Jolene that had ended it… and since then the extreme discretion that someone in uniform had to practice, in her position. Discretion so complete it made any real relationship difficult to impossible.
They were sitting at one of the tables in the lecture hall of the Athenaeum, a big room covering the second floor of the white neoclassical main building; a desk was to their rear, shelves of old books to either side, and at the head a stage where Frederick Douglass had once spoken.
Ian and Doreen were sitting side by side and holding hands, discussing anthropology or something of that nature. There were times when she was very glad she wasn’t an academic.
“We’re closed.” Martha’s voice came up, muffled by the distance to the front door. “Tomorrow.”
“I know, Ms. Cofflin,” a voice said from below. “Please let us in, though.”
“I’ll go down and help her run them off,” Jared said, pushing himself upright and walking away with a sigh. “Damn, doesn’t anyone realize we have to sleep too?”
Alston’s mind divided between the final cargo loads that would have to be swung onto
Something in the voices from downstairs brought her back to full wakefulness with a cold jolt. She sat up and signaled Swindapa’s suddenly alert face to silence with a finger across the lips.
“What-” Ian began.
She didn’t have a gun with her-nobody in the Guard wore one on the island except on duty, and that rarely- but their swords were bundled in a pair of blankets with the other things from the picnic, taken along to do a few
“Wait here,” she whispered in the blond girl’s ear. “Be careful. Get help if things go wrong. Look after Ian and Doreen, and do
She jerked her head at the sash window and drew the blade. “Understand?”
Unwillingly, Swindapa nodded. Just then a gun barked, a small flat crack; there was a cry of pain, and angry voices raised. Her mind clicked it off; pistol, very light caliber.
“Ian, Doreen, stay out of this,” she said. Doreen had some training, Ian none.
She walked to the head of the stairs and looked down. Nothing.
She kicked off her sandals and padded barefoot down and out into the entranceway, the sword held in her left hand with the blade not exactly concealed, but not forcing itself on anyone’s attention, either.
Pamela Lisketter was there, with her brother and a few more of her followers. Her brother had the gun. It was a.22 Hammerli auto target pistol, of all absurd things, looking oversized in his hand. His eyes glared behind the thick glasses, jumping from one point to the next, and the muzzle jerked around at her as she walked into view. A round cracked off, ricocheted somewhere to her right, and ended in a tinkle of glass.
Cofflin was down on the ground, swearing softly, and his big fisherman’s hands squeezed a bleeding wound just above his knee. Either Dave Lisketter was a very good shot-unlikely-or he’d been dead lucky. Incapacitating a determined man with one light bullet was not easy, and from the way Cofflin was glaring at them he had all the determination you could want.
Martha was backed up against a desk, quivering with the anger she was keeping off her face, except for the two red spots on her cheeks. Pamela Lisketter looked out of her depth, but grimly determined to carry through. Her brother’s twitching eyes and bared buck teeth gave him the look of a gopher on pure crystal meth, capable of anything, one way or another. Other figures moved behind Lisketter, taking boxes of books out of the Athenaeum.
“You’d better put that-there down, white boy,” she said, conscious in some remote corner of her mind that the Gullah accent she’d fought so long and hard to control was back in full force. “Y’might hurt yoselfs wit it.”
“Drop that sword!” he barked, shrill. She continued to walk forward, slow and soundless, then halted just beyond arm’s reach. “Drop it.”
“No, doan’ think I’ll do that thing,” she said carefully.
“Drop it!” He looked bewildered and waved the gun. “You
“That there’s a gun, white boy. It ain’t no magic wand,” she said, and turned her head to Martha. “What’s goin’ on here?”
“Ms. Lisketter,” Martha said, her voice frigid with contempt, “is going to- save the Indians-“
“Native Americans. By taking them our guns and a copy of the
Alston laughed deliberately, a deep rich sound. “Even crazier than Ah thought,” she said. “Lisketter, tell your brother that if he puts that there gun down now, I won’ hurt him.”
Her senses expanded, taking in the room and the positions of everyone in it. One long controlled breath. Another.
Lisketter spoke: “Your own Lieutenant Walker is helping us,” she said.
Alston laughed again. “Walker doan’ help nobody but Walker,” she said. “So…”
Lisketter wasn’t going to back down. Her brother had so much adrenaline in his system he was on the verge of going berserk, which would make him an utterly unpredictable factor. Time to act.
A number of things about swords were surprising to those who’d never trained with them. The first was how
In the instant that followed, Marian Alston knew two things with angry certainty. The first was that her training had betrayed her; she stepped forward into stance and whipped the blade back and around for the finishing stroke in drilled reflex, leaving Pamela Lisketter a crucial moment to react. The second was that Pamela Lisketter also had a gun, and that she’d fired it through the pocket of her coat.
Isketerol smiled as he pushed through the door and over to the desk. The partition-the
“What can I do for you?” the policeman asked.
“You can die, foreigner,” Isketerol said in Tartessian.
His left hand flashed out and clamped in the Amurru-kan’s hair, jerking the man forward, while his right flashed out from behind his back with the steel dagger the smith had made for him. It was double-edged and needle-pointed, about seven inches long, and sharper than anything he’d ever held before. The point punched into the side of the Amurrukan’s neck just behind the windpipe; he could feel the stiff tissues crunching and popping as the broader shoulders of the weapon sliced in. He jammed the man’s head down on the desk as he wrenched the blade forward. Blood spurted, covering the short tunic-the T-shirt-he was wearing. His victim’s movements went spastic for an in
“To You, Arucuttag of the Sea, I dedicate this offering. Take what I give, Hungry One, and grant my desire,” Isketerol said. A wet finger outlined a red wave on his forehead.
He turned to the door and signaled the others in. One of them took a single look and bent over, vomiting, Isketerol hid his contempt.
“Get moving,” he said, raising the barrier between the entranceway and the night officer’s desk.
He pushed the body backward, so that it slumped off the chair and onto the floor. No sense in taking unnecessary chances. A moment served to strip off the gunbelt and buckle it around his own waist; he cleaned and sheathed the dagger, then took the crossbow one of Lisketter’s followers handed him, instead of drawing the pistol as he longed to do. Best to use a weapon he’d practiced with, and one that made no loud noise.
“Harry? What’s going on out there?” someone called from within the building.
Isketerol’s lips skinned back from his teeth.
“Quickly!” Isketerol snapped, reloading.
Lisketter’s followers and Walker’s men had come prepared, on the assumption that a sixteen-pound sledgehammer and a pry bar were the most versatile keys ever invented. They pushed through into the police station, where the shotguns were in racks, padlocked closed. Three ringing blows disposed of the locks, and the long arms went into crates and were manhandled out to the handcart. Ammunition was in locked boxes beneath; they simply carried those out, since they could be opened later. The door of the storeroom where the private firearms were being kept yielded to two strong men with sledges in less than a minute of battering. Isketerol nodded approval.
Inside was the smaller type of gun,
Metal clattered on metal. Seconds crawled by like minutes, minutes like hours.
At last they were finished. Isketerol chivvied them out, turning to check that all the other doors to the building were locked from the inside. Then he shut the last one and stuck a strip of soft brass into the slot for the key, hammering the end home with the butt of his dagger and then breaking it off with a sideways blow. That would delay whoever came to check on the station, and moments might be crucial. He took a coat from the handcart and draped it over his shoulders, hiding the weapons at his belt. The crossbow went within, his hand on it as he stood beside the cart in the position he would walk.
A quick glance up and down the street. Nobody was looking this way. “To the docks,” he said. “Walk as if you own the world.”
If this plan succeeded, Isketerol son of Elantinin would own a good deal of it.
“Told you the blacksmith would be working,” Walker said, looking down at his watch. “Right where we need him.”
He could smell the fear-sweat on the men behind him, Rodriguez and McAndrews.
You took what material was to hand, but he wasn’t impressed with either. The Puerto Rican sailor thought with his balls, and McAndrews had more nonsense stuffed into his thick head than one of Lisketter’s flakes, just a different flavor. On the other hand, neither was a coward. McAndrews was even fairly bright, when his brain wasn’t focused on the Glories of Africa; squeamish, though.
They could hear the clang of the hammer from the shed; it was a converted truck garage near Seahaven Engineering, chosen for its concrete floor. Smoke floated up from the new forge chimney, ghostly in the star-sheening night sky. Sheet metal had been laid around the brick of the stack, to lessen the risk of fire. Red light leaked out around the edges of the doors and through the big propped-open windows.
“Hey, man.” Martins looked up and smiled, his round-lensed glasses looking absurd on his long-nosed face. “Like, what’s happenin’? It ain’t the time for your regular lessons.”
Walker jerked his head at the other two men. They spread out behind him, covering the entrances.
“Your friends want some lessons too?” Martins said, his voice full of its usual dreamy mildness.
“Actually, John,” Walker said, “what I’d like is for you to come along with me. Right now.”
The mild brown eyes blinked at him. “Okay, but like, I’m sorry, man, I got some work I have to do. Another time, Okay?”
“I’m afraid it’ll have to be now, John,” Walker smiled, coming closer. “Really.”
Barbara was looking up, blinking, an edge of suspicion in her eyes. Something snapped in William’s head. He drew the Beretta from its waist holster under his jacket and brought it around.
His voice had taken on a crack of command that usually brought results. Martins only blinked again, his mouth setting stubbornly under the walrus mustache.
“Guns,” he said. “Oh, I don’t like guns. I’m sorry for you, man. Heavy. You’re carrying some heavy power trip there, like, authoritarian stuff? No way am I going to, like, reinforce that sort of negative trip.” He turned away, lifted the blade out of the oil, and began to wipe it down.
Barbara had given a little scream at the sight of the pistol. Now her eyes flickered to the other two men, the hands resting under their sweatsuit jackets.
“Johnnie,” she said breathlessly, “I don’t think these guys are kidding. Maybe you’d better go with them.”
“Hey, Barbs-you can’t let stuff like this divert your energy, you know? It’s Will’s karma. He has to work it through.”
William Walker smiled bleakly and bolstered his pistol. This had not been altogether unanticipated. The
Martins rounded on him, his hammer going up. “Drop her, man! Drop her now!” His sheeplike face was transformed, forgelight gleaming in his eyes and turning them red. The twenty-pound forging hammer went up as if it weighed no more than a thistle.
Walker smiled and reached around Barbara from behind, letting the tip of his knife rest just under her eye. “Let’s put it this way, John. You start cooperating, and I won’t cut this stupid cunt here a new set of orifices. You do
The hammer dropped slowly. “Yeah,” he said hollowly. “Careful, man, that’s sharp.”
Barbara was crying with short, sharp inhalations, tears gleaming in the red-and-white light of the bed of coals in the forge.
“Glad we’re communicating at last, John. Here’s what you’re going to do.”
William Walker swung onto the
“Very well, Mr. Walker,” she said, returning the courtesy. Less formally: “What’s up, Will?”
“Working party, Greta,” he said. “A few last things the skipper wanted shifted to the
“Thanks,” Hendriksson said, impressed with his zeal-it was a holiday, after all. “You’ve been doing a great job working her up.”
He looked around the deck. Not much activity, as you’d expect with the ship at anchor and most of the crew on liberty ashore. The swell was slight, and the ship rode easily under a sky ablaze with stars, a frosted band against the night. Not quite deserted, though. There were still enough people to screw things up completely, if the alarm was given. Speed was the ticket, that and acting as if he had a perfect right to be where he was and doing what he was.
“Sooner done, sooner I can get to sleep,” he said. Hendriksson nodded and returned to her post near the wheel, trotting up the gangway from the waist to the poop deck.
Walker fought not to wheeze relief. Sweat trickled down his flanks; it could have been very awkward if she’d stayed closer. A dozen men followed him up the companionway, moving with professional briskness; he’d drilled them in the movements often enough, although in fact only about half of them were Coast Guard.
“This way,” he barked, waving them forward with his clipboard.
Lights were dimmed below; he led them down to the second deck, and the locked door that held the
“Jimmie,” he whispered. Even in a small town like Nantucket you could find appropriate talents, if you looked. A small man eeled his way forward, knelt by the door, and went to work.
Four endless minutes later it clicked open; all he’d had to do was savagely hiss the restless into silence. The door swung back, and Walker shone his flashlight within.
“All right, get the light.” A larger battery-powered item went on. “That’s the machine gun. Get that and the ammunition first. Rifles next, then the shotguns, then the handguns, then the cleaning oil and parts. Keep it looking normal, no running, but
Seconds stretched agonizingly. When two men dropped a box of ammunition they were carrying by the rope-sling handles he had all he could do not to light into them with fists and feet as the deck boomed. Minutes crawled by, and exultation with them.
The last boxes went up the stairwells and out on the deck. He never knew exactly what it was that woke Commander Rapczewicz, only that he heard her voice from above, raised in a sharp tone of command:
“You there! Yes, you. Who are you? What are you doing on the
She was the XO. She knew everyone authorized to be on the ship, at least by sight… and the approximations of uniform he’d slowly, painfully accumulated for his recruits were only that, makeshifts. He went up the companionway in four bounding steps and burst onto the deck. Willpower slugged him to a halt, made him walk over calmly with a smile on his face, extending the clipboard.
“Sorry, ma’am,” he said. She was hastily dressed-buttons misaligned-and blinking sleep out of her eyes, but narrowly suspicious. “It’s right here-“
That brought him within arm’s reach. The heel of his right hand rocketed up, punching into the angle of her jaw. Sandy Rapczewicz was a solidly built woman, but his hundred and ninety pounds outweighed her mass by forty. She snapped backward with her heels barely touching the ground and lay in a crumpled heap with blood running from her nose and mouth. Luckily that brought her into the shadows by the bulwark. He looked around. Nobody.
“Get that crate down to the boat,” he said, forcing himself out of his crouch. “Now, you fools. Move it.” The flat calm of his voice was a better lash than a shriek. They fumbled it up and started down the companionway, feet clattering.
“Mr. Walker. Is everything all right?”
Walker turned at the hail from the quarterdeck.
Hendriksson turned to go. It was at that moment that Sandy Rapczewicz crawled into a pool of light and collapsed again, her blood-slick face ghastly in the yellow light of the lamps. Walker responded instantly, pulling out his Beretta and firing. Bullets thunked into teak decking and spanged off steel with vicious red sparks. The lieutenant threw herself flat. Walker whirled and raced down the gangway, half-throwing the two men and their burden ahead of him into the boat and leaping after. The rowboat swayed wildly and shipped water over one side; it was perilously heavy-laden, even for a calm night.
“Out oars and stroke!” he roared.
They responded, clumsily at first, then bending their backs to it. He turned and knelt, holding the pistol in a two-handed range grip, squeezing off the rest of the magazine at the side of
The boat came alongside the
“We did it!” he said. A bit premature, but they
“Arucurtag of the Sea was with us,” the Tartessian whooped.
Two women huddled behind him; Alice Hong, and what’s-her-name, Rosita. Martins and his girlfriend were securely handcuffed below, and…
The last boxes came aboard and went below, secured with padlock and chain.
“A taste of things to come,” he said to the Iberian. “The guns weren’t half as hard to steal as that bastard of a quarterhorse.” As if to punctuate his words an indignant neigh came from the hold, and the drumbeat sound of hooves on wood.
Turning to his crew: “Start engines!”
The diesel coughed to life under his feet. That took longer and made more noise than he liked, but there was no point in trying to sail her off in the face of an onshore breeze, not with this scratch crew. They’d be clumsy at it despite the economical nature of the schooner’s rig, much easier to set than a square-rigger of the same size.
“Thanks for the help, and good luck!” he called.
Panic-stricken cries rose; the other boat’s engines were turning over as well. That had been the plan, to run the engines dry building up a lead. The plan had been to do it together, though. He laughed, a barking sound.
“Where are you going?” Pamela Lisketter cried, springing up to the rail and clutching at a line. “We need you!”
“But I don’t need you,” he chuckled again, and shouted: “And wherever I’m going, it isn’t fucking Mexico, you dumb bitch. Give my regards to the proto-taco-benders and Formative Period bean-eaters!”
He roared laughter again; it had been the hardest work of his life, putting on a convincing imitation of a would-be tofu muncher and humanitarian weepy for this collection of…
Walker went to stand beside the Tartessian. “I see you brought Rosita,” he said to the adventurer…
“But of course,” Isketerol said, looking down at where she huddled against the rail. “I promised her that I would take her as a wife. And so I will. Third wife, to be sure- but when we are finished, my third wife will be more than Pharaoh’s great queen.” He jerked his chin without looking around. “Your Alice, as well.”
Hong got to her feet. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Will? This tame goon of yours comes along and strong-arms us-“
He swung around, still grinning, and pointed a finger. It didn’t quite touch the young doctor’s nose, but she jarred to a halt. “Shut up,” he said. “You’re along because I don’t intend to entrust my precious personal body to the local witch doctors if I get sick. But I’m a healthy guy, so your value isn’t infinite.” She froze, clasping her arms around her nightgown.
Restoring order and setting watches took a few minutes. It left him still full of energy, bouncing on his toes, sleep out of the question, like a hit of cocaine-something he’d tried once or twice, on confiscated material that went missing. No more than that-William Walker wasn’t going to wreck himself to make a bunch of Colombian greaseballs rich-but the sensation was pretty much the same. Except that this high was free, and high as the gleaming moon above him. The thudding diesel drove the schooner’s sharp prow eastward at a steady ten knots, water curling back from it in opalescent wings. He grabbed Alice Hong by one arm and pushed her ahead of him down the stairs before the wheel, then sternward and into the captain’s cabin. There were two big bunks on either side of a table, with a semicircle of padded seats under the fantail windows. Out of them he could see the
The woman rounded on him. “What the fuck do you think you’re doing, you son of a bitch?” she began.
“Hey, Will-” Her voice was tremulous. “No need to get rough.”
A combination of fear and queasy excitement brightened her eyes and made her moisten her lips. She did; he’d discovered Alice Hong had more kinks than a corkscrew, which made her more interesting… and more useful, in some respects. Leather whistled in his hand.
“Please, Will… what are you doing?”
“Whatever I want, from now on,” he said. “I told you about it, remember?”
“I thought you were just bullshitting me, fantasies to get me hot!”
“No, Alice. I’m going to be a king… and those who follow me are going to have wealth and power beyond their dreams. As long as they obey me. Turn around.”
She obeyed. He gripped the back of her nightgown and ripped it off with a single yank that brought a gasp from her. A hand between the shoulder blades bent her over the table.
“Yes, God, yes!”
He laughed and unzipped. “There are a lot of things you’d like, aren’t there, Alice?” he said, and thrust into her. She yelped and gripped the edges of the table.
“You’d like to have a place where you could dish it out, too, when you felt like it,” he said. “Gold and silk, wealth, girls, boys, do some
“Yes,” she hissed, pushing back to meet him. “Yes, you bastard-you weren’t just-
He laughed, one hand gripping the back of her neck with painful force, thrusting into her with a savagery that battered her thighs against the edge of the table.
“I’m the man who makes dreams come true.”