“I packed you your favorite lunch, sweetheart.” Mary-Beth held out a paper bag, delicately wrapped, and laid it at her daughter’s feet. “It’s just what you’ve been asking for. I’m just sorry I can’t make it more often, since you know what a bother it is.”

Her daughter made no move to accept the bag.

After a moment, Mary-Beth continued. “Don’t tell me you won’t take it! You’ve been begging for this for months, and it’s been so difficult not to indulge you at every turn…”

The greasy stains on the bag began to spread, and soon the paper was started to sog and soften under the weight. Viscous and red liquid began to dribble from it, staining the carpet and her daughter’s clean new shoes.

“It’s a little messy,” conceded Mary-Beth, “but what isn’t, when made with love?”

Her daughter said nothing; the breath had long since departed her body. Through the intercession of the spirits in Mary-Beth’s head, she had been begging for months for a sweet embrace about the throat and a meal of her father’s fresh heart. Her doting mother had granted both, and when she was found the next day, still whispered sweet nothings to her child while the body of her husband cooled on bloodsoaked sheets nearby.

Inspired by this image.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“King Philip V is wracked by illness and madness, and his son and heir Louis is a simpleton who even his wife refuses to see,” Exposito cackled from behind the bars. “What a wonderful opportunity this presents to a man of vision and initiative! The Viceroy Balthazar prepares to sail to Spain to take up residence as majordomo of the palace on the strength of his campaigns against the pirates infesting our waters and the remarkable innovation of the so-called Spanish Plate and the Spanish Cannon.”

“Is that it, then?” said Hume. “He was building his power here to return to Spain in triumph?”

“Or so he thinks!” Exposito cried, hurling himself at the bars. “Little does he realize that it has all been my doing! I am a native son of this land, born here and raised here, the Corregidor of Veracruz. Everything that passes from the New World to the Old must also pass through my fingers. I built myself up from nothing, because the visions have told me that I must.”

“You’re mad,” Hume spat, “and your visions are just the ravings of a lunatic Balthazar keeps on a chain so that he might have a mad dog to unleash when it suits him.”

“Of course you would say that; you foul pirates lack vision and purpose. It is simple, pure, and revealed to me with a blinding light when I came into myself.” Exposito leered at Hume, his eyes wide and mad behind the iron. “For I am the beast spoken of in Revelations, destined to lay the world low in chaos and despair that it might be redeemed through suffering. Don’t you see? Only with the emergence of the Beast, with chaos and hardship, may the way be paved for redemption and the Redeemer. Those I kill are sent to their own just rewards, and those that suffer will be assumed unto their own once the trumpets sound.”

“Madness,” said Hume. “Utter lunacy.”

“To the contrary, it all makes so much sense! Of course it would be an Expositio, abandoned by family to a wasting death in the wilderness, a product of both worlds, who would bring this about. Of course the New World would have the means to accomplish the Revelation and the end times. And to that end I will have the viceroyalty, I will control that fool Balthazar and that greater fool Louis on the throne, and I will redeem this world through the agony and ecstasy of divine will.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“What did the Spaniards want with Natty Cove?” Hume asked. His Spanish was quite good, if heavily accented; anyone who hoped to make a living off the Spanish Main did well to learn the tongue needed to demand a surrender.

“I don’t know,” the nun said stubbornly. “I was their prisoner, and they–like you–do not regularly bring prisoners into their confidence.”

“Why were you their prisoner?” Hume asked. “You took up the space in their hold usually reserved for gold and treasure; I’ve got a crew of angry corsairs wondering how they’re going to take a 1/100 share of a nun, and every answer you give me will help dissuade them from the more immoral thoughts they entertain.”

“Is that a threat?” said the nun. “Or a poor attempt at parley? Either way, I’ve nothing to offer you. I am a simple Sister of Our Lady of Veracruz, taken against my will from my convent and my service to the Lord on the orders of I know not who.”

“Somehow, I doubt that all the Sisters of Our Lady of Veracruz know how to boot a man in the bollocks to try and swim for it.” Hume said drily.

“On the contrary, sir, Veracruz is full of buccaneers and pirates of every stripe, many with commissions from the King, and we in the Sisters are first taught how to defend our honor as brides of Christ. And my mother was a fine swimmer who taught me much. I would wager that I could outswim any man jack of your crew if you’d let me get to brine.”

Hume cradled his head in his hands. “Look, Sister. Four ships were sunk in getting you spring of those irons, and nearly five hundred men gave their lives in front of your galleon’s bewitched Spanish Cannon. What am I to tell the men to which I’m beholden?”

“Tell them that they have my thanks,” replied the nun, “and that the abbess of my convent will reward in gold any crew willing to ensure my safe return.”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“After you, Mister Cooke.”

Cooke stepped forward with “Old Irontooth,” his favored blunderbuss, packed with a double powder charge and a handful of grapeshot. “Old Irontooth” made a very eloquent argument, worthy of Demosthenes, to the Spanish lock. Seeing the error of its ways, the lock yielded to persuasion.

“Remember, boys,” Hume said. “Much as we mourn our fellows, the fact is that through their sacrifice we’ve all got more of a share of the golden treasure in the hold.”

Cooke made a gruff noise and kicked in the door. The lanterns revealed…piles of shot and shell, a Spaniard dead from a wooden splinter to the eye, and a powder charge smoldering mere inches from a heap of gunpowder. That, and a prisoner clapped in irons: a young woman in the habit of a missionary nun.

“This treasure leaves something to be desired, skipper,” Cooke deadpanned.

“Abandon ship!” Hume barked. There was no dousing that powder charge, not in time to be sure that the sparks thrown up wouldn’t ignite the entire magazine. Cooke gave his skipper a look as the men took a powder to flee the burning powder.

“Yes, yes, of course,” Hume grumbled. He pulled a brace of pistols from his quartermaster’s rig and blasted through the chains restraining the nun. She could be useful as a hostage, or something. She was clearly in shock, and allowed the boarding buccaneers to carry her limply topside.

Hume continued to bark orders to his men, only cutting the grapples when he was satisfied that all of them were clear. They worked the Fancy Rat free with gaffs, but it had only made a quarter-league’s distance when the Nuestra Señora erupted. It wasn’t enough to sink the Rat, any more than the explosion of the Surprise had been to put the Nuestra Señora herself under, but the sails were torn, ropes were parted, and wood was splintered even as the deck was sprayed with red-hot debris.

And, at that moment, the nun opened her eyes and delivered a sharp kick to Cooke’s stones. Her ruse of shock falling away, she wriggled free of his grasp and made a dash for the gunwales and freedom.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Pulled almost directly alongside Nuestra Señora, the Surprise let loose a full broadside at point blank range as the Spaniards were reloading their guns. It was a volley that would have left any other ship a splintered hulk, but the galleon’s mysterious Spanish Plate was too great an obstacle, and the shot bounced off as if fired into a sheet of iron.

In response, the Nuestra Señora ran out her own Spanish guns. Hume could see men aboard the Surprise dropping their ramrods and grapples and fleeing, well remembering what had happened to the Gunway II. But it was too late; the Nuestra Señora roared her Spanish Cannon and the Surprise was obliterated. Its magazine blew, ripping the ship in two and flinging men and cannon in all directions. Those who had made it into the water before the explosion were dragged screaming below by the suction of the submerging wreck.

“Keep ‘er steady, boys!” cried Hume. To their credit, the crew of the Fancy Rat didn’t break or run despite what they’d seen befall the other ships in their flotilla. Hume had a moment of grim thought–the boys knew that they’d be sent to the bottom running as surely as they would fighting–before he gave to order to board. “We’ll give ‘em a surprise as a remembrance of our mates now perished!”

The Fancy Rat had approached from astern as the Nuestra Señora had been distracted by vaporizing the Gunway II and Surprise. Hume had his men run out onto the prow with grapples, and at his mark the men threw them. It wasn’t the traditional way to grapple with a foe, which was usually done gunwale to gunwale, but the Nuestra Señora had none of her bewitched Spanish Cannon to the rear. At the same time the first grapples were tossed out, Hume threw the Rat‘s rudder hard to port; this brought the ship’s gunwale perpendicular to Nuestra Señora‘s stern. With ladders and grapples, Hume and his men could board Nuestra Señora from the rear like a Port Royal courtesan.

Hume led his men personally, with their first order of business to silence the gunners. The Spanish Cannon they fired were the most potent weapons the seas had seen since the secret of Greek Fire had been lost, but without men to touch them off, they were so much ballast, and the muskets the Spanish marines bore seemed to have no such enchantment. As luck would have it, the Spaniards to port were too intent on taking aim at the Duke of New York, which had turned and made sail to flee the engagement.

“Take ‘em out, boys!” Hume howled.

It was too late; the Spanish Cannon roared and the Duke of New York vanished in a pillar of flame and screaming. It was a hollow triumph, though; still flatfooted by the rear boarding, the Spaniards manning the deck cannons were swept away by a volley of musketry. The others abandoned their guns as the shouted order was passed along: “¡Todas las manos! ¡Repeler asaltantes!”

Hume grinned, and drove the point of his cutlass into a deck officer’s rib cage. “Let’s see how they do in a fair fight!”

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

The pirate fleet had been assembled in haste but not without care, the promise of booty from a Spanish treasure galleon being more than most corsairs in the area could resist. Not a single galleon had been taken in nearly the entire year previously, with all the ships known to attempt the endeavor lost with all hands. There were wild tales of cannonballs bouncing off the sides of treasure galleons, of their own shot and shell tearing through opposing ships with inhuman accuracy and power, but a confederation of five ships was enough to but all such notions—silly superstition in the eyes of their masters—to rest.

The treasure galleon—Nuestra Señora de la Inmaculada Concepción—was quietly shadowed by a pair of skiffs after leaving Veracruz, but to the surprise of its crew, their course took them not to Havana or the open waters of the Atlantic but to the pirate isle of Nativitad, better known to buccaneers as Natty Cove. Arriving in the harbor, Nuestra Señora drove the smaller pirate craft from the harbor before beginning a bombardment of the settlement itself. Its captain informed Natty Cove via note that it was to surrender itself immediately and submit to search and seizure, but as a pirate town there was no mayor or government to treat with. When one of the shadowing skiffs notified the fleet, they proceded at best speed to intercept their prize and save the city.

The five pirate ships—the Surprise, the Gunsway II, the Howdah Keg, the Fancy Rat, and the Duke of New York—engaged the galleon simultaneously, crossing her “T” in what would usually have been a position for a rout.

Twenty minutes later, four of the five ships were ablaze and sinking.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

“Why would anyone want to play the clarinet?” Cindy scrunched up her nose. She played the flute on the way toward playing the piccolo, the slightest and most feminine of instruments.”

Brady hugged his clarinet case tightly to his chest and began to walk more quickly.

“Yeah,” said Arden, who played the drums. “Clarinet’s something you play when all the good instruments are taken. All the real instruments.”

Continuing without acknowledging them, Brady visibly reddened. His clarinet case, the size and shape of a small briefcase, thumped against his knees as he fled.

“What a loser,” Cindy said after him, in a loud voice she was sure he could hear.

“Yeah,” added Arden. “Why not drop band if you’re just going to lame it up with the clarinets?”

Once he was out of the range of their taunts, Brady opened a maintenance door with a credit card and slipped into the school’s restricted area. A few moments later he was on the roof. The procession of President Mtumbe of Katanga was just passing by the school.

Opening the clarinet case, Brady removed the pieces of his instrument before prying up the felt backing to reveal an optical scope, a pistol grip, suppressor, and five rounds of .30.06 full metal jacket. A few snaps and twists later, he had assembled a short but functional single-shot clarinet sniper rifle.

He played a short song on it, and melted away before Mtumbe’s security detail could avenge their slain leader.

And that was why Brady Carruthers, young assassin, played the clarinet exclusively.

  • Like what you see? Purchase a print or ebook version!

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,037 other followers