Section from
  "Bring It Close"

Tuesday, 1st October

Nassau

1

Jesamiah Acorne, four and twenty years old, Captain of the Sea Witch, sat with his hands cradled around an almost empty tankard of rum, staring blankly at the drips of candle-wax that had hardened into intricate patterns down the sides of a green, glass bottle. The candle itself was smoking and leaning to one side as if drunk. As drunk as Jesamiah.

For maybe ten seconds he did not notice the two grim-faced, shabby ruffians sit down on the bench opposite him. One of them reached forward and snuffed out the guttering flame, pushed the bottle aside. Jesamiah looked up, stared at them as vacantly as he had been staring at the congealed rivers of wax.

One of the men, the one wearing a battered three-corner felt hat and a gold hoop earring that dangled from his left earlobe, leant his arms on the table, linking his tar and gunpowder-grimed fingers together. The other, a red-haired man with a beard like a weather-worn, abandoned bird's nest, eased a dagger from the sheath on his belt and began cleaning his broken and split nails with its tip.

"We've been lookin' fer you, Acorne," the man with the earring said.

"Found me then ain't yer," Jesamiah drawled. He dropped his usual educated accent and spoke in the clipped speech of a common foremast jack. He was a good mimic, had a natural talent to pick up languages and tonal cadences. Also knew when to play the simpleton or a gentleman.

He drained his tankard, held it high and whistled for Never-Say-No Nan, a wench built like a Spanish galleon and whose charms kept her as busy as a barber's chair.

She ambled over to Jesamiah, the top half of her partially exposed, and extremely ample bosoms wobbling close to his face as she poured more rum.

"What about your friends?" she asked, nodding in their direction.

"Ain't no friends of mine," Jesamiah answered lifting his tankard to sample the replenished liquor.

The man with the earring jerked his head, indicating she was to be gone. Nan sniffed haughtily and swept away, her deep-rumbled laughter drifting behind as another man gained her attention by pinching her broad backside.

"Or to be more accurate, Acorne, Teach 'as been lookin' for yer."

Half shrugging, Jesamiah made a fair pretence at nonchalance. "I ain't exactly been 'iding, Gibbens. I've been openly anchored 'ere in Nassau 'arbour for several weeks."

Since August in fact, apart from a brief excursion to Hispaniola - which Jesamiah was attempting to set behind him and forget about. Hence the rum.

"Aye, we 'eard as 'ow thee've signed for amnesty and put yer piece into Governor Rogers' 'and," Gibbens sneered, making an accompanying crude and explicit gesture near his crotch.

"Given up piracy?" Red Beard - Rufus - scoffed as he hoiked tobacco spittle into his mouth and gobbed it to the floor. "Gone soft 'ave thee? Barrel run dry 'as it? Lost yer balls eh?" Added with malice, "Edward Teach weren't interested in fairy-tale government amnesties, nor 'ollow pardons." He drove his dagger into the wooden table where it quivered as menacing as the man who owned it.

That's not what I've heard, Jesamiah thought but said nothing. He had no intention of going anywhere near Edward Teach, better known as Blackbeard, though Black Heart would be as appropriate. Even the scum and miscreants who roamed the seas of the Caribbean in search of easy loot and plunder avoided the bastard of a pirate who was Blackbeard.

Aside, Jesamiah was no longer a pirate. As Gibbens had said, he had signed his name in Governor Rogers' leather-bound book and accepted His Majesty King George's royal pardon. Which was why he had nothing better to do than sit here in this tavern drinking rum. Piracy, plundering, pillaging, none of that was for him, not now. Now, Jesamiah Acorne, Captain of the Sea Witch, had a woman he was about to marry, a substantial fortune that he could start using if only he knew what to spend it on, and the dubious reputation of becoming a respectable man of leisure.

He was also bored.

"You owe him Acorne," Rufus said. "Teach wants the debt paid."

Jesamiah raised the tankard to his mouth pretending to drink. He had been drunk but he had become stone sober the moment these bastards sat down at the table. Only he was not going to let them know it; safer to pretend otherwise for Gibbens, Teach's boatswain, and Rufus were trouble. Anyone who willingly sailed with Teach was either as crazed as a man who had quenched his thirst with salt water, or had brains boiled dry by the sun. In the case of these two dregs both instances applied. They were lunk-heads who punched first and asked questions after. If they assumed Jesamiah was drunk they were less likely to err on the side of caution.

Two more men slithered from the smoke-grimed shadows and sauntered up to stand behind Jesamiah. He could smell the nauseating stink of their unwashed bodies and the badness of their breath. He winced as one of them prolifically farted.

Gibbens sneered, showing a ragged half set of black teeth. "Our Cap'n wants what you owe Acorne. You sank our ship. You'll be payin' us for 'er. One way or t'other," He nodded, a single discreet movement towards the two men behind Jesamiah - and all hell broke loose.

As one of them went to grab at his shoulder Jesamiah was coming to his feet, his right hand drawing the cutlass at his left hip, slung from a bronze buckled strap aslant across his chest. The bench he had been sitting on tipped over, and his left hand lifted the table crashing it on to Rufus and Gibbens who were a heartbeat instant too late in reacting.

Jesamiah's reflexes were honed to a quick and precise speed. Half turning to his right in one fluid movement the cutlass swung upward and slashed the face of one of the men behind. Blood fountained in a gush of sticky red accompanied by a cry of pain and protest. He continued the turn, the blade, reaching the end of its arc, came down and forward again through the weight of its own momentum, amputating the arm of the second man as efficiently as a hot knife goes through butter.

Stepping aside, Jesamiah wiped the blood from his weapon on the coat of one of the fallen men, he dipped his head in acknowledgement to Gibbens and Rufus, who were scrambling, furious, from where they had been pinned behind the mess of the table.

"Tell Teach if he wants to speak to me he'll 'ave to come in person. I don't deal with his monkeys." Jesamiah sheathed the cutlass, bent to retrieve his hat from where it had fallen and, flipping a coin towards Nan, sauntered from the tavern as if nothing had happened.

"Bring It Close" by Helen Hollick