The Señor shouted for Mr. Gulick three times before tutting in annoyance, apologizing to me, and telling Mr. Foster to show me and the animals to the east rooms on the second floor. Which, Foster muttered in an aside, means the third floor.
“Our new allies from Q Bone’s place will have the rooms along the long south wall, overlooking the party patio.” He waved toward the tables. “Beside the other two.”
“The other two?” I didn’t have to feign the bafflement.
“The other fleeing pirates,” he said. He took in my bafflement with a lordly amusement. “The ball player and the Indian.”
At least he didn’t identify Lincoln by race. “When did they come here?”
He shrugged and shoved his hand into a red satin glove and waved at me. “Earlier.” He nodded at Foster and tugged the other glove on. “Also, give Mr. Randolph his arms.”
“I gave them to your staff for safe keeping. I’ll find Mr. Gulick and have them delivered with his new clothes.”
The Señor then offered Kinsey and Sirhan their own rooms near mine, but they shook their heads at that. They seemed weirdly hesitant to talk in front of him.
But, after the slow climb up the stairs, past paintings of ships and castles and what I guessed were Abarca-Abaroa’s other Facing Relatives, after Foster slowly closed the door on our peach-and-turquoise furnished room, instructing me to have a shower before the staff brought me up my new clothes, they opened up.
As the door clicked closed, they leaped from my shoulders. Kinsey landed on one of the bed’s posters. Sirhan fluttered to the Persian rug and darted his head this way and that until he found the room’s other inner door. There was also a set of double glass doors leading to a balcony, but Sirhan was staring at the small, caramel-colored door to my left.
“A shower?” he squawked.
“Surely, it’s a garden can on a hook or something.” Kinsey saw where the raven was looking and scrambled down the poster to take a position beside him.
I saw something out the wavy glass of the balcony doors. Something out of place. I moved my bare feet from hardwood to carpet and stepped over the animals on my way toward the balcony. In the nearby fields, right where well-tended grass gave way to a field of sugar cane beyond a line of fat, dancing palms, stood a tall, wooden water tower with the word “FORD” in faded black paint against faded white paint.
There was a thick metal pipe like a column from the base of the tower’s fat tank right down into the ground. Henry Ford the engineer had not completely surrendered to human resources.
I spun from the window. I meant to just stare at Sirhan and Kinsey, but I couldn’t help but smile. Kinsey bounded across the carpet and jumped to the second door’s knob. With a double squeak, one from the monkey and one from the door, the bathroom revealed itself.
The bedroom might have been pure 18th century, but the bathroom was 21st century comfort. There was a toilet, a real sitting toilet, and a sink with a faucet. Granted, there was only a single knob, but the Right Breast was in the tropics. Who needed hot water?
But, the idol in the shrine was a step-in shower with bamboo doors and what looked like real stone tiles. Hanging like a god’s cock near the ceiling was a shower head, a beautiful brass shaft and lump with a little knob on a gear that told me immediately that it had multiple settings.
“What?” Kinsey squealed.
“What the fuck?” Sirhan completed her thought.
“There’s an oil lamp!” Kinsey squealed. She was stuck in squeal mode.
“Forget it,” I said. “The sun’s still up. We leave the door open.”
We had already done this once, under a waterfall. My modesty was gone. I started tearing off my rags. The bags of food and spare ammo fell to the floor at my bare feet. Kinsey was hanging from the shower’s knob, tugging at it frantically. A spray of water erupted from the shower head.
Sirhan was standing on the sink, dancing on his black, avian feet. His feathers were fluffed into chaos.
“There’s towels!” Kinsey squealed, standing in the spritzing water. “Fancy, white towels!”
“And soap,” I said. My skin felt better already.
“Don’t get any on me,” Sirhan said. “Not good for my feathers.”
I nodded and stepped past him, moved into the spray of the shower. I grabbed a bar of soap from back of the toilet and, once Sirhan had fluttered into the shower, I closed the bamboo door and the cleansing began.
The cutlass and guns were waiting for us when we exited the showers, and I loaded the pistols as the three of us giggled, damp and naked on the bed.
A knock came as I was lying on the bed with Sirhan and Kinsey grooming themselves on the pillows beside my head. I ignored the first knock. Clearly, my new clothes had arrived. I was in no hurry to get dressed.
Then I heard the click of a knob. It was not the same click as when Foster had closed the door.
I rose to my elbows.
“Oh, don’t mind me,” Bob said from the balcony door. He had a pistol in his hand, and five more in a crude, woven vest on his chest. A sash was wrapped tightly against his shirt, binding the spot where I’d sunk a hanger into his gut. The shirt looked strangely familiar. It had holes and brown bloodstains over Bob’s heart.
His braided beard spread as that manic, hippie grin took in my surprise. Sirhan and Kinsey were suddenly on their feet beside me. My gun vest, Bob’s old gun vest, was on the far side of the bed from Bob. I didn’t trust myself to reach it before he put a bullet in me.
“I hope you don’t mind me commandeering this.” He tugged at the linen shirt with his free hand. “It’s a little tight, but the abbot wasn’t needing it when we found him.”
The sky behind him, through the balcony doors, was a deep violet. There was a yellow light from the south, from the party patio. I could hear voices and laughter.
“You must have been seen,” I said.
The thumb and forefinger of his free hand closed over the hilt of his hanger. He jiggled it. I saw it was red with blood.
“We were,” he said. “Now, we’re invisible again.”
We. Yellowbeard’s men. Maybe Q Bone’s men. I rose and set my hands on the edge of the bed beside my knees.
“Go ahead, John. Cry for help.” His thumb gently tugged the cock of his pistol back. It clicked cheerfully. Bob’s free hand eased another pistol from his crude vest.
I had earlier tried to stump Hippie Bob with engineering problems about the World Facing. Galileo. He had defeated me in that. Stupid. An experiment tried, a lesson learned. My breath was cooling my teeth, making my incisors ache. I knew Kinsey and Sirhan were behind me, but they were not imposing themselves onto the confrontation. Bob was my engineering problem. Not the World Facing. Bob’s mind.
“They’ll be bringing my clothes and weapons at any time,” I said.
Bob grinned. “Oh, we’ll have come to an understanding before then. I think we already have.”
I stood with feigned anger and snatched up my pants from the carpet. I could smell their stink. I slipped my clean legs into them.
“So, I am to climb down the house wall with you and put myself back into Yellowbeard’s service.”
“No,” he said. His tongue played at his teeth. “You are to climb down the house wall with me, get a good lashing, and then put yourself back into Yellowbeard’s service.”
I lifted the weight of the belt and its bags to my waist. I glanced back at Sirhan and Kinsey, who were just standing quietly on their respective pillows.
“They won’t be coming,” Bob shook his head. “They’re not part of our game.”
I tied the belt with a granny knot and looked down at the ragged shirt. Fuck it, I could do without its accumulated filth.
“For the record,” Bob grinned. He waggled his pistols at me, cocking the one in his left hand. “Let me state that I never had a reason to break contractual endeavor.”
He stepped inside the room, waving me toward the balcony doors with his pistols. I sighed and took a step toward the balcony. I glanced back at the animals, who were standing still near the headboard of the elaborate, comfortable four-poster bed where I had hoped to be spending the night. In cotton pajamas.
“Or sever relationship,” Bob sing-songed. “With anyone.”
As I passed him, he grinned madly at me. He was quoting Prince again, but I did not know the song. I stepped onto the balcony. I could see the light from the party along the south of the house, casting long shadows on the grass. I could hear the over-loud conversations, the giggling in the joy of drink and avocado salad. Plantation owners and merchant sailors and esteemed workers of Casa Relajada all dining together.
I looked across the grass at the row of fat palms separating the house grounds from the fields. Ford’s water tower stood there, gleaming in the light of the celebration of the Day of the Fool. Behind the trunks of the palms, men stood hiding. Barely visible in their stealth. I recognized Yellowbeard’s men. Danny was there. Várion with his afro. And others I didn’t recognize.
“Darling Nikki?” I asked, setting my hands on the iron banister of the balcony.
I felt Bob move up behind me. He pressed the barrels of the pistols against my back and leaned in.
“You know,” he whispered in my ear. Whatever that meant.
I spun and dug my fingers into his shirt. I yanked myself forward, my chest against his, forcing the pistols beside me. His face was shocked, his manic smile gone. The pistols spent themselves with a pop and a cloud of gunpowder.
Kinsey and Sirhan were on his back as he dropped his dragons over the edge and reached for another pair. I dragged him sideways toward the iron banister. The animals were biting and pecking at the back of his neck. I pushed his shoulders over the edge of the banister and let go of his shirt. My hands found his thighs and lifted.
He tumbled over the edge. Sirhan swooped over the grass. Kinsey leaped onto the balcony below. Bob himself just fell, staring up at me, his white teeth gritting as he lifted his second pair of pistols at me in defiance.
He hit the earth, his arms splayed at his sides, and the pistols went off. There was silence from the party patio.
“Get him!” came a shout from the trees. Yellowbeard’s voice. I scanned the men racing across the grass with dragons and hangers drawn, but I could not find the captain. Three men raced from the party patio onto the grass. Gulick and two others. They knelt, drew pistols and started firing.
I retreated into the room and leaned with my hands on my knees. Sirhan landed on my left shoulder. I heard Kinsey’s feet pattering on the balcony floor, then the hardwood, then the Persian carpet. Her little hands tugged at my pants until they came to my belt. I reached back and she stepped into my hand. I lifted her to my right shoulder.
There was a knock at the room’s main door.
I put bullets into four pirates clambering over the balcony’s banister before I heard Yellowbeard call a retreat. Musket fire told me that Señor Abarca-Abaroa’s men were organizing a resistance. I heard Foster’s voice shouting.
I shoved off the ragged pants and shoved on the blue velvet trousers that had been brought for me. The man had dropped his package in the doorway with a pale face and fled. As I listened to the skirmish beyond the balcony doors, I thrust my arms into the cotton shirt, the blue velvet jacket, the gun vest. Fuck the back-buckles. I plopped my ass onto the bed and yanked socks and leather shoes into my feet.
“Dressed to kill,” I said to the animals. I don’t think they were impressed. It was extravagant. I had no fucks to give.
The ammunition bag and powder horn were still looped through the rope belt in my abandoned rags. I nodded Kinsey and Sirhan toward the four pistols lying on the carpet as I drew the final pair from my vest and stomped toward the balcony.
“For fuck’s sake,” Kinsey squealed.
“Really,” Sirhan said. “How?”
I growled at them. “Figure it out. Reload!”
I stepped onto the balcony and saw Yellowbeard’s men back in their positions behind the trees. Ragged musket fire was eating into the trunks of those palms. The pirates were taking pot-shots at the Señor’s men, who were forming a line at the base of the house.
A tall, thin, tattooed black man in gray calico stepped onto the grass and waved a pistol at the house.
“Get back my slaves!” Q Bone roared. “They’re in the house!” A gaggle of men abandoned their hiding places to form a line beside him.
I lowered my pistols at Q Bone and squeezed. The left one fizzled impotently. The right one slammed its grip into my hand, but the ball hit the grass between Q Bone’s boots.
The slaver leveled his pistol at me. There was a bang, a cloud of smoke, and a loud ping against the iron banister to my left.
I dropped my spent dragons on the balcony and held my hands open. I felt a pistol grip against my left palm, Kinsey’s furry hand on my thumb. I grabbed and lifted the gun. A moment later, the same drill on my right palm. I thumbed the hammer under my left thumb, and aimed carefully at Q Bone.
That’s when I saw Yellowbeard standing in the half-darkness between two palms. I shifted my aim and squeezed the trigger. There was an eruption of blood from his left thigh like an angry volcano. He fell to his knees.
I dropped the spent pistol and raised the other toward Q Bone. A thumb, a finger, and he fell with a red flower blossoming over his collarbones.
Danny and Várion rushed from behind the palms, musket balls torturing the grass around them. The two of them helped Yellowbeard to his feet and half-carried him into the darkness of the fields. Two others knelt over Q Bone for a moment. He was not moving. One of their heads exploded in a shower of blood and bone. The other scrambled for cover on knees and elbows.
The gunfire went silent. The pirates and slave hunters disappeared into the fields. Gulick led his green-liveried men to form a line at the palms. Foster and his men rushed into the sugar cane fields.
A cool wind licked at my beard. It fluttered in rhythm with the leaves of the palms. The stars winked at me from the darkening sky. I smelled gunpowder and sugar. I looked down, over the banister, and saw Bob’s unmoving corpse with a pool of blood spreading like wings over his shoulders.
“He gave his angel that April night,” I whispered.
I saw movement below in the corner of my right eye. A man in red velvet had stepped around the house, a musket in his hands.
“You are alive, John Randolph?” It was the Señor, glaring at me.
“I am,” I shouted. Clouds of gunpowder drifted over toward the sea, over the edge of the far cliffs. I let myself breathe for a moment, then muttered under my breath, so that only Sirhan and Kinsey could hear: “I am more alive than ever.”
“My party is,” the Señor heaved. “Arruinada!” He looked angry, his chest panting, his eyes scanning the bodies in the grass. I saw a grin climb up his cheeks.
“Did you do that?” he shouted to me. He was grinning. “Q Bone is dead!”
I felt a hand on my back. Amy was standing beside me. I turned. The others were standing there, coupled up in arms, staring down over the carnage. Ahmad with Mei, Karím with Keiki, Lincoln with Mukki. I smiled at them all.
Amy bounced on the balls of her feet.
“Q Bone is dead!”