'Captain Clayton, Pirate'

by Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon'; accompanied by her heartmate, Sandy Parker, late The Honourable Mirabelle Flockington, as was; daughter, no less, of a British Viscount. Time, 171—and something; Place, the Caribbean Sea and fabled Spanish Main itself. Objectives, Gold; Plunder; Rampaging; Generally having fun. The ladies try their hands at kidnapping.

Note:— East Indiaman—passenger cargo ships operated by the East India Company; when sold out of service they could find themselves in all corners of the world.

Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2017 to the author. All characters in this story are fictional, and any resemblance to real persons living or dead, as well as being purely coincidental would also be absolutely mind-blowing.

Caution:— There is quite a lot of swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'know.

—O—

"No, I ain't bloody Anne Bonny." Captain Joanna Clayton was in a rage, quite a frequent state of mind for her. "Neither's this here, by my side, Mary Read. You ain't Mary Read, are ya, gal?"

"F—k you, lady, o'course I ain't that silly trollop." Mirabelle Flockington (The Hon.), now generally known as Sandy Parker, sneered as only she could; several nearby strongly-built sailors taking a step back to safety. "I could wipe the deck with her any mornin' o'the week. Name a day; go on, name a bloody day, an' just watch me."

"She's a good 'un, Mr Halliwel, but she gets mighty riled, mighty easy; just sayin'."

The two seawomen, and man, sat in the Public bar of the 'Happy Hoplite', an insalubrious drinking-den and hostelry on the main street of Cayona, the only substantial town on the island of Tortuga, north of Haiti. The original owner,—an Englishman of superlative literary learning, hence the establishment's monicker,—had early succumbed to fever, drink, pretty women, and handsome young men; not necessarily in that order. Now of course, in this year of our revered King, 171-and something, it was a hive and haven of and for Pirates, Buccaneers, low-lifes, and general scum o'the Earth—and Joanna was looking for a sponsor to ante-up the golden doubloons for a forthcoming raid she had in mind which would make everyone involved richer than Croesus, or so she affirmed.

"Jest askin'." Mr Halliwel sniffed austerely, he being a man of fine tastes and this present slop-shop being far below his ordinary standards. "Can't be so many female pir—er, ladies of the Coast, eh?"

"More'n you'd imagine, ducky." Sandy glowered from under pale brows, her normal method of engaging in conversation. "I know three, if not more; depends on what you might call a lady of our profession. Some do it jest fer fun; others, it's a callin', like nuns."

Halliwel found himself completely nonplussed by this statement; he having no reasonable answer to hand, but business was business, after all.

"So, umm, this little expedition you're preparing, madam," He sat at the table eyeing the women on the other side through narrowed grey eyes. "Jest gim'me the gist o't, never mind the details. The general conception's what I'm after; then I'll tell you whether I'm in, or not."

Halliwel being a man of business—indeed, being about the only man of pure unadulterated more-or-less legal business on the island—he had, because of the fly-by-night nature of most of the pirates and scum who inhabited the island, become inordinately rich. Golden doubloons, similar moidores, silver pieces-of-eight, similar reales, and golden escudos; all being grist to Halliwel's well-filled money-boxes. He keeping most of his ill-gotten profits in tight security chests in the cellars of the several villas he owned spread across the mountainous island, and other hiding-places on Haiti also. As a result of which when any particularly needy pirate found themselves in want of the readies for any specially gruesome undertaking in the piratical line they came to Halliwel. And so he became progressively richer with every passing month—the sort of business, he was wont to explain to friends over a glass of sweet Madeira, where there didn't seem to be any downside, you winning both ways. He making a profit on his percentage of the spoils; then making further profit when the wastrel—they were almost all of this ilk—pirates sewed their wild oats and generally threw their own cuts of the successful deal around like English Dukes or French Counts out on a spree.

The two ladies of this mostly male preserve—pirating as a profession, that is—were something to take the eye of any roving Casanova; any action on said interest, however, almost certainly leading to his instant and painful downfall; the ladies being well-known to be a couple in all senses of the word; most people having come to accept this set-up in fear of their lives.

Joanna was tall, dark-haired, and lithe of body. This latter being well-built in all the areas which generally raised male blood pressures. She was also, curtesy of a lady of colour to be traced somewhere in her near ancestry, of a decidely darker skin tone than usually met with or generally countenanced in a European lady by polite Society (if such existed anywhere in the Caribbean at this time); this often causing offence to her, and eventual sorrow and anguish to those who brought the subject up in a negatory manner—few of whom survived to tell the tale. She was presently somewhere in her early thirties, as far as anyone—including herself,—could tell. Daughter of an infamous member of the Brotherhood and now Captain of her own vessel and crew, by nature she had an inbred dislike of the Spanish as a whole; despised Yankees, as by nature bound; spat whenever the French were mentioned; and thought only of the British with the curled lip of disdain. In short, she was misanthropic virtually without reserve, let or hindrance.

Sandy Parker—an assumed name, formerly The Honourable Mirabelle Flockington daughter, no less, of a British Viscount—was slightly shorter than her paramour; sporting swathes of long wavy blonde-yellowish hair, which had suggested her present nom-de-plume to her sweetheart; and a fulsome physical form which made the men drool just as much over her as her partner: anyone of the multitudes of scumbags nearby on the island of Tortuga, however, who had the temerity to act on their salivating desires very quickly being put out of their misery permanently by one or the other bloodthirsty Valkyries; neither woman stopping short of sticking a sabre or cutlass through the entrails of any importunate Lothario, and twisting it just for thoroughness.

They were both, as we speak, dressed for comfort; this being generally a loose shirt, tight-fitting pantaloons of sturdy leather or buckskin, and a long knee-length woolen surcoat, heavily embellished for effect with silver trimmings. Joanna favoured a long sabre hanging in its sheath on her right hip, while Sandy chose a short cutlass on her left side. Joanna went bare-handed throughout the day; while her paramour was always seen in a pair of soft chamois gauntlets—she having burnt her hands rather badly, resulting in nasty scarring, when a nearby keg of gunpowder had once gone off unexpectedly during one of her late unlawful jaunts.

"Well, at first hearing ya might think my plan's jest a touch complicated." Joanna paused to judge the effect of this on her erstwhile sponsor, but seeing only a slightly raised eyebrow continued. "It comes in three parts; first, y'll have heard of Joseph Lockhart, down to Montego Bay?"

"Yeah, a Limey merchant, lately of London, now planted in Jamaica." Halliwel nodded, fully aware of his recently arrived opponent in the dry goods line. "Got tight connections with the Royal Navy—supplies their clothes, or something similar."

"All the crews' clothes and officers' uniforms." Sandy bared white teeth in a cold grin. "Seems t'have an exclusive contract, bags o'profit in it apparently."

"Can I get on, thanks?" Joanna sneered, mainly by reflex. "Secondly, y'll have also heard of the Senlis Diamonds? A whole set o'fancy diamonds, pearls, rubies, an' whatnot, he's brought from England with him t'heap on the ivory bosoms, an' wherever else, of young Lady Fassely the love of his life—who, it seems, has pursued him all the way here, an' finally managed t'tie the knot with him a month or so ago, God knows why."

"—er, yes." Halliwel sat back on his chair, though instantly thinking better of this move when the creaking structure gave every appearance of being about to collapse under the strain. "That is to say, I've seen them in person. At least, bits o'them—that is to say, the diamonds, not Lady Fassely's ti—er, boso—ahum, where was I?"

"God knows, some scummy daydream, by the sound o't." Sandy this time let rip with one of her best-for-Sundays' sneers, making her interlocutor go a shade paler thereby. "Carry on, Jo; number three, wasn't it?"

"Jeesus." Joanna shook her head in disgruntled gloom. "Why'd all my plans always start this-a-way? Are ya listenin', with those big floppy ears o'yourn, Halliwel? I realises perfectly well you're the guy with the bucketloads o'pieces-o'-eight an all, but a gal can take only so much, ya know. Where in Hell was I?"

"Number three." This from Sandy, who was keeping score as was her wont.

"Number three?" Joanna frowned, slightly at sea, then recovered. "Right, number three. Which is, in point o'fact, no less than to double our profits at one fell swoop by kidnapping the source of all our tribulations in person, an' holding the silly trollop t'ransom—"

"Over an' above half-inching her diamond collection, that is." From a now nearly drooling Sandy, fantasising on the lovely prospect to come.

There was a pause in the conversation here while Halliwel, no stranger in his time to crazy piratical plans and notions, tried to encompass the entirety of the present proposal.

"And what d'you intend doin' with the kidnapee, when y've got your dirt—your hands on her?" Halliwel raised his eyebrow again, unaware this personal trait was beginning to grate on his present partners. "It's only I don't want to be seen as involved in any, er, nasty outcome towards the Lady, y'see."

This was too much for the always hot-headed Sandy, who threw her gauntleted hands in the air in an overly dramatic gesture of contempt—she loving to grandstand whenever the opportunity offered.

"Jeesus, we're pirates; we kidnap people an' hold 'em t'ransom—perhaps cuttin' off minor bits an' pieces an' sendin' 'em post-haste t'the lovin' relatives as gentle reminders t'get a dam' move on with the moidores—then o'course, after receivin' said sacks o'ransom money, simply t'simplify matters from a security point o'view, y'realise, we tie a twenty-four pound shot t'the kidnapee's ankles and send them t'Davy Jones' Locker as easy as pie. Should'a thought y'd know that by now, Halliwel."

From the completely clear and innocent expression of Sandy's face Halliwel could see she thought this merely the dry matter of everyday life. Taking a deep breath he leaned over the table and tried to pin his opponent with a gimlet eye.

"Dam' that fer an undertakin', lady." He bared less than perfect teeth—yellow, broken, and depreciating in value each month, if you must know; there being no dentists of worth on either Tortuga nor Haiti. "Kidnappin's all very well—brings a nice profit when carried out professionally, an' all. But there are limits; y'can't jest dump the Lady overboard when y've lost interest in her, y'know—"

"Why-ever not?"

"Miss-Captain Clayton," Halliwel sighed deeply, shaking his head and raising another eyebrow—he still blithely unwitting of the danger this was putting him in. "You're missing the point, there is such a thing as the British Royal Navy, y'know."

"What about the b-st-rds?" This from Sandy, who was floundering in a fog of unknowing, and showing it.

Halliwel well knew, from past experience, that beating logic into the skulls of pirates was a hopeless enterprise; but, being a man of unlimited vision and hope, he went at the thankless task for the umpteenth time that year—171-and something, if you've lost track—starting with what he thought was the obvious.

"Lockhart supplies the Navy with its clothes an' suchlike." He stabbed the badly scarred top of the table with a stubby fingertip, emphasising his points. "Puttin' him out'ta commission, even fer a short time, would leave them all naked as new-born babes."

"—eew." From both revolted women.

"Then there's the question, fact really, of Lady Fassely's, er, Ladyness."

"What?" Joanna glared uncomprehendingly at Halliwel.

"She's a member of the English aristocracy; daughter of some Earl or other." Halliwell made it simple for simple minds. "Bags of power an' influence, the British aristocracy have in high places, y'know. You kidnap the Lady, the Admiralty at London'll fairly surely send a squadron o'frigates t'spoil the lunches o'every member o'the Brotherhood in the Caribbean. But you deep-six The Lady in question, an' they'll pull out all the stops—probably a full fleet, with several ships-o'-the-line. They'll squelch all pirates on the Spanish Main once an' fer all, no holdin' back. Jeesus, ladies, can't either o'yer think at all?"

Here Sandy—late The Honourable Mirabelle Flockington, as was—came into her own; she being a past member of the social coterie under discussion.

"I'll have you know my own father's a British Viscount." She had long abandoned her own birthright, but still had an inbred soft spot for the whole sorry bunch of layabouts. "O'course, my mother was nothin' but a jumped-up strumpet who bamboozled him outrageously, then went off with a wagon-maker with pots o'guineas; but that's neither here nor there. What I'm tryin' t'tell ya is, I know the upper-classes an' aristocracy, an' they ain't anything like the opposition you'd think. Half o'them are mentally retarded to an extent you simply wouldn't believe, y'know. Comes of all their inter-marriages, an' whatnot."

By this time even Joanna was pulling at the bit; her partner's diatribe seeming to have no relevance to matters at hand whatever.

"Lover, have ya got a point t'make, or can we grown-up's get on with our conversation?"

"Har-Har." Sandy was well-used to her compatriot's sharp tongue. "What I'm sayin' is Halliwel's idea of half the bloody Royal Navy turnin' up on our doorstep, an' castin' haughty glances in our direction, jest ain't on the cards; won't happen, trust me."

"Trust you, hmm." From the love of her life.

"Trust you, umm?" Rather more cautiously, from their sponsor-to-be, maybe.

Here, at this delicate point in their discussion, an interruption occurred all too common in such broken-down grog-shops as the present example. The public room, of some forty feet square with a line of windows running along the left street side, held numerous tables as well as quiet nooks along the walls protected from each other by high wooden frames. There were, at present, around twenty drinkers idly chatting among themselves; all, by pure coincidence, male,—there being no hindrance, in Tortuga, to members of the greater sex coming in for a cooling pint of grog if the mood hit them, but not at the moment. Which was just as well because one of those mysterious bar-fights broke out instantaneously, like forked lightning in a summer thunderstorm. Why it began no-one could afterwards quite put their finger on—those who retained said digits, knife-fights being rather nasty that-aways.

Anyway, before Sandy could think of an all-encompassing series of curses taking in the essential nature of her two compatriots' family ancestors and their present and future characters, in response to their reserved responses to her words, all hell and general mayhem had swept across and through the room. Chairs were pushed back in anger; tables over-toppled; curses thrown hot enough to send the vicar of Mile End, London, into a tertiary fever if he had heard—which, of course, he was in no position to, being in London and the present debacle taking place in Tortuga—am I boring you? Where was I? Oh yes

A hefty seaman in grey ratcatcher and sporting short stubble in place of hair on his bullet-head raised an entire table above his shoulders and sent it flying at some unidentified objective where it smashed to splinters with a satisfying crash. A thrown knife whipped through the air, flashing between the three interested spectators, while another crashed into the centre of the table a short distance from Sandy's gauntleted left hand, its blade sinking two inches into the table-top.

"F—king bitch."

Sandy, brown eyes sparkling in anger, grabbed the weapon with one hand, withdrew it without effort, then looked around for a likely target, meanwhile poising the weapon near her shoulder.

"Hold hard, lady." Joanna, greatly daring, reached out to grab the sleeve of her partner's rather dirty longcoat. "We don't wan'na get involved in some lousy bar-fight, go easy."

"Oh, if ya insist, but we're missing a great chance—looks like a fine fight." Sandy never having been one to stand and wait, as the poet says, but on the contrary anxious to get right in there and draw blood at every opportunity. "Huh, looks like it's over, anyway, dammit."

A tall lean blonde-haired man, perhaps a merchant or suchlike, had apparently been the opponent much to blame for the affray; now, however, he had just succumbed to part of a chair hitting him squarely on the head, he collapsing like a straw-filled puppet to the bare, filthy floorboards and taking no further part in ongoing events.

"Oh well, fun while it lasted." Sandy sat down again, clearly depressed at missing most of the entertainment. "So, where were we, then?"

—O—

Back on board the 'Amazon' the women sat in their shared stern cabin, discussing the positive results of their approach to Halliwel.

"Didn't think he was in the mood t'cough up, fer a while there." Sandy pulled the cork from a dark long-necked bottle and filled two silver goblets with rich brown rum. "Here's to you, lover."

"Yo-Ho, as someone once said, darlin'." Joanna was as relaxed as she ever allowed herself to be; captaining a pirate ship never being an easy lay at the best. "Well, we've got Halliwel's promissory note for 15,000 guineas at three months; that should do nicely, I'm thinkin'."

"What's the plan then, I'm all ears." Sandy suddenly paused, well-knowing the sarcastic nature of her lover's mind, instantly retreating from this exposed position. "That's t'say, my ears are beautiful works of art Praxiteles'd be proud of, so there."

"Dam' surprised y've ever heard o'him, actually—aowch, that hurt."

"Was meant to, darlin', but I loves yer all the same, God knows why."

"Fool."

The present vessel they were proud co-owners of, the 'Amazon', was what might be called in British naval parlance a two-decked twenty-one gun frigate—except, of course, it was nothing of the sort, being merely a pirate ship. It had started life in Nova Scotia, already renowned for shipbuilding, as a barque; had passed through the hands of several owners, all unfortunate in one degree or other; until ending up, by nefarious means, in the ownership of the two Ladies of the Main. Crewed by around one hundred and sixty good men and women true it had engaged for the past three years in a mixed career.

Barque-rigged, foremast and mainmast square-rigged with the mizzen fore-and-aft rigged, she was fast, sailed close to the wind, was eminently maneouverable, and could carry a heavy broadside: this particular vessel being easily recognised the Caribbean over because of this very asset. Joanna had, after some early experimentation, finally decided on an armament decidedly out of the ordinary; this being six twenty-four pounders on each side of the lower gundeck, with eight eighteen-pounders each side of the main-deck—except that in the middle of the lower gun-deck she had placed a single thirty-two pounder on each side. Thus giving her, so Joanna was wont to explain, a firepower not much less than a true twenty-four gun naval frigate—perhaps even a tad more.

The fact that had she actually ever ordered a full-on, instead of rolling, one-sided broadside the vibration and pressure waves would have reduced the body of the vessel to matchwood in seconds was, she easily admitted, a slight hindrance—but nothing ordinary naval ships didn't have to put up with themselves. So firing at a likely prize contained some delicate mathematical decision making. Joanna had therefore divided her gun-crews into fore and aft units, neither allowed to ever fire together, and the use of rolling broadsides where each gun fired individually; while the central thirty-two pounders were only ever fired by themselves, never as part of a fuller broadside or bombardment.

Of course the guns each having different ranges offered some relief; inasmuch as Joanna generally used the larger thirty-two pounders at long range, lower-deck twenty-four pounders at medium range, and the main deck eighteen-pounders at close range prior to boarding. Allied to the fact they might chase a victim all day, when they didn't have the weather-gage, and it can be seen that being a pirate was far more complex than it was usually cracked up to be.

Then of course came the question of what to do with extraneous passengers—as the unfortunate crew and others on board any captured vessel were referred to. Everyone has heard of the gentle art of walking the plank; but in reality this hardly ever happened pirates being, in the main, lazy characters finding it far easier to simply grab a victim by the scruff of the neck and throw them overboard into the briny, no questions asked. Joanna and Sandy had themselves, it must be admitted, engaged in this cleaning-up operation in their time; but had recently come to the conclusion it was easier, less troublesome, and far more profitable to hold prisoners for later ransom—even letting them go free, when the moidores appeared—this usually even without the gentle reminders elucidated earlier in this essay; Joanna and Sandy being, for pirates, relatively kind of heart—if they could be said to own said organs, from a moral point of view, that is.

"Jo, y'sure Missy'll be in residence at her villa in Montego Bay?"

"Yeah, haven't we gone over this before?" Joanna sniffed austerely as she refilled her goblet. "Lockhart's away on business in Hispaniola; Lady Fassely's in their coastal villa six miles east of Montego, with only servants to hand; we go ashore at dead o'night, storm the citadel, pinch the jewels, an' drag the tart back t'the Amazon willy-nilly—nuthin' to it, doll."

"Hmmph."

—O—

It isn't generally realised that pirates didn't, in the ordinary way, restrict themselves to attacking ships at sea; they being perfectly capable, when the necessity arose, of organising offensives against inland targets as well. Such being the present case, Mr Lockhart owning a large villa near the coast some few miles east of Montego. As was the customary situation he ran the small estate with a group of servants native to the island, but didn't himself own slaves as such; he being of a minor British religious sect which opposed such things—a standpoint which did nothing to endear him to the local society of the area, who simply couldn't understand his strange views on the matter.

At the present moment, some half an hour before midnight, Lockhart was carousing with his business partners in Hispaniola, he just finishing his second bottle of wine; while his wife sat by a small card table in her private bedroom on the first floor of their villa by the sea in Jamaica. It being positioned six miles from Montego on the edge of a small sandy bay there was not much opportunity for visiting, so she tended to spend endless evenings playing solitaire or some other one-handed card game. Not being a drinker herself she instead consumed endless cups of tea, the same being the bane of her cook's life.

At this hour Lady Sophy Fassely, whose usual habit it was to stay up to one o'clock in the morning, was feeling rather sleepy and had just decided to throw her cards aside and take advantage of the large four-poster on the far side of the room. But first, she thought, she'd finish another few papers in her collected volume of the 'Spectator', she particularly enjoying Joseph Addison's style.

Meanwhile, just over a mile away, Joanna and Sandy were closing the low sandy beach in their tight little cutter; the 'Amazon' being anchored on this calm night around a league further offshore. The women knew the villa was not guarded by any soldiers or private militia and only the few native servants would be in attendance, so Joanna had brought only five of her crew along, seeing no danger otherwise.

The cutter heaved-to a hundred yards from the low sandy slope of the beach, Joanna, Sandy, and the other pirates transferring to a longboat for the short trip onwards. Five minutes later they assembled on the hard sand of the tiny beach, ready for action.

"Remember now, boys, no wild rampaging or taking advantage of any ladies present, or women in general come to that, hear me?" Joanna always liked to have her wishes on this point clearly understood beforehand. "Because if any one of ya decides t'go off on his own account thataways, me or Sandy here'll slit yer collop's open and dance on yer bloody entrails, have no doubt o't."

Faced with this vivid likely end to any harboured thoughts of a good time being had by one and all the men shrugged their shoulders and assented in low surly voices that they were, none of them, feeling particularly randy that night anyway.

The tramp from beach to the wide garden surrounding the two-storey villa took only a few minutes, accomplished with that level of silence only a party of pirates intent on loot could achieve.

"So, there it lies." Sandy, standing by her partner in crime's side, surveyed the building with a critical eye. "This must be the back, garden side; front entrance on the other side. No lights on the ground floor, but that room t'port upstairs is occupied."

"I don't know fer sure, but I'm bettin' that's Fassely's rookery." Joanna scratched her chin, observing the lay of the land. "Thank God for a moonlit night, we can see almost like daylight."

"Yeah, helps a lot."

"Right, see that door towards the far end?"

"Yeah, kitchen d'ya think?" Sandy crouched slightly, peering from under a hand held to her forehead. "Yep, that'll be the kitchen. If it's locked be sure it'll take me all of thirty seconds t'make it unlocked."

"What? All'a that? You're slippin' lady."

"Fool. Let's get on with it; I can't wait t'see her face when we trespass in her boudoir."

"You have an evil side, darlin'; over and above your usual plain nasty side, o'course."

"Thanks, love it when y'compliment me. Let's get on with it, then; time's awastin'."

—O—

Sophy had read one 'Spectator' paper, and was riffling through the book in search of another interesting one when the door of her room swung wide, slamming against the wall with a bang. Into the candle-lit boudoir strode what appeared to her startled eyes to be a small army, led by two snarling Valkyries. Not being faint-hearted, however, she bounced up from her chair and confronted her audience.

"Who in Hell'r you lot? And what d'ya mean by this impolite intrusion? Have you no manners at all?"

"Manners?" Sandy was taken aback, both by the determination of their supposed victim and her words. "We're bloody pirates, ma'am, we don't hold with manners."

"Pirates? Pirates?" Sophy, for the present was at a loss. "What could there be here for such as you? My husband doesn't keep money or riches here. And my jewels have just this last three days gone to Kingston t'be cleaned an' reset."

"F—k it. —er, anyways, that's where y're wrong, lady." Joanna bravely rose to this set-back, going forward with her part in the informal conversation. "He's left you here in residence, at least, hasn't he?"

"Me? What do you mean?"

"What we mean, ma'am," Sandy stepped forward, closer to their intended victim, drawing her cutlass whose blade glinted in the candle-light. "is that you make up half the riches we came to make our own. There's two ways we can do this, lady; one, you resist, in which case I bash your head in with the hilt of my cutlass an' carry your unconscious body down t'our boat. Or two, you come quietly, in which case we can all have a relaxed perfectly charming evening. What's your choice?"

And it was at this point that a delightfully worked out plan of action, perfect in every detail as Joanna had earlier vaunted to one and all, came to sudden grief. Sophy, apparently no whit put out by events, leaned quietly down to place a hand on the small card table beside her. Instead of touching the cards spread across the top, however, she swiftly opened a till now unregarded drawer in its side and straightened with a long-barreled horse pistol. Aiming it levelly at her opponent Sophy pulled the trigger and devastation wreaked havoc in the small crowded room.

The blast from the huge pistol sent a wave of white gunpowder smoke across the space between her and Sandy. For her part Sandy gave an agonised yelp and dropped to her knees, clutching her already blood-soaked shoulder. There was an instant's pause, everyone frozen in shock, then pandemonium ensued. The blast from the firearm had put out at least three candles, rendering the illumination in the bedroom less than effective; everyone being reduced to a group of flickering shadows in an enfolding darkness. The pirates started howling in fury, trampling every which way, getting under each other's feet and cursing as only irate pirates can. Joanna ran to the wounded Sandy, finding her by the simple act of stumbling over her body.

"F—k, stop kicking me, will ya." Sandy, at all appearances, was still compos mentis. "The f—kin' b-tch dam' well shot me."

"I noticed." Joanna crouched by her partner's side. "Lem'me see. Oates? Oates, ya scum, light some o'these dam' candles, will ya. You others, get after that bloody b-tch, wherever she's vanished to. Alright, dear, we'll get you back down t'the boat in short order. I don't think it's a bad wound."

"Not a bad wound? Are ya mad?" Sandy, being the recipient, had every opportunity of deciding how seriously she had been wounded. "The ball went right through; d'ya realise that? I think there's a wound like an open barn door by my shoulder blade, I can feel it. I can't move my bloody arm."

"One thing at a time." Joanna, bravely trying her best to avoid panic herself, looked around for assistance. "Carling, gim'me that spotted thing ya call a neckerchief. Right, let's get your shoulder wrapped up. Lem'me see, yes, it did go out your back, but the exit wound ain't as bad as it might be; don't think she loaded that bear-pistol with anything bigger than a penny-weight ball—must'a been the large gunpowder charge that sent it right through ya."

"It's so pleasant to know the technical details, once you've been knocked down by a horse-pistol wielded by a bloody mad-woman." Feeling the pain increasing from her wound Sandy was now moving into sarcasm aimed at everyone in attendance. "Hey, don't drag at me, Jo, I can get up on my own feet; I ain't dam' dead yet."

"An' you're not goin' t'be, neither; so quit carpin' an' help me out here." Joanna was grateful to hear the strong tone in her lover's voice. Perhaps the wound wasn't as bad as it at first appeared. "The sooner we get ya back t'the Amazon the quicker Blaine'll be able t'put you t'rights there; he has all the medical equipment to set ya up like a young gal again, don't worry."

"Yeah, yeah, surely. Ouch, ouuch."

"Quit complainin', will ya, we're all doin' our best, woman." Joanna looked around the battered remnants of the bedroom. "Hey, Carling, any sight o'the trollop who did this?"

"Lady Fassely?" Carling, a broad low-built Dorset man, shrugged unhappily. "From what we can make out she's slipped the place entire; no sign of her whatever. Barleymow here tells me he found three native servants, all women; but none has any idea o'what's goin' forward at all. It's a mug's game, ma'am, an' no bloody mistake."

"F—k it, f—k it, f—k it." Joanna held her wounded lover gently as they negotiated the short flight of stairs to the ground floor. "Stand easy, darlin', we're back on solid ground agin; not long now. Right, Carling, reform everyone, an' let's get t'Hell out'ta here—back t'the boat at the double, no arguments. Let's go."

"Aargh, slower; it's f—kin' agony."

"Easy, gal, easy, we'll soon be safe. F—k, what a bloody night."

—O—

The council-of-war next morning, back on the safety of the Amazon far out to sea, revolved around the supposed character of their late opponent, Lady Fassely.

"I never would'a believed it; she shot Sandy, without so much as a by-your-leave. Just upped an' put a ball right through her." Joanna was still steaming from the injustice of the whole thing. "Why'd she go an' do a thing like that? All we was gon'na do was kidnap the silly trollop an' hold her fer a nice easy ransom. A coupl'a weeks an' everyone'd have been happy; why'd the b-tch have t'go an' spoil the whole dam' thing?"

"She obviously wasn't up fer bein' kidnapped, it seems." Dr Henry Blaine, the pirate's medical locum, sat at ease in his chair. "Was probably against the whole discomfort of the thing; these English ladies bein' soft an' delicate flowers, y'know."

"Soft an' delicate flower, be dammed." Joanna wasn't going to suffer this sort of defeatist thinking. "She put a ball through my inamorata, fer no reason at all; it ain't fair. Talkin' of whom, how's Sandy doin', now?"

"I left her in bed in your cabin cursin' like a Limehouse fishwife, at all an' sundry." Blaine, though a medical Doctor, had long ago chosen the Brotherhood of the Coast as offering more adventure. "I dosed her t'the gills with laudanum about an hour ago, so she's a little at sea fer the time being."

"Is she really gon'na get better?"

"Oh yes." Blaine nodded confidently. "A piercing wound, I grant you; but that works for us, not leaving a ball inside to suppurate the wound, y'know. That'd have been bad. If you'd wanted me to try'n extract the ball it'd have meant some nasty picking and fiddling around inside, to find the dam' thing. She wouldn't have come through that kind of operation very well, not in these humid climes."

There was a silence in the gunroom of the ship, Joanna having moved her headquarters there some distance from the rear cabin where Sandy now lay, cursing away at one and all.

"How long before she's back on her feet?"

"Give her ten days, I'd say." Blaine considered the matter dispassionately, as he considered everything in life. "Another week t'get her sea-legs again; then she'll be as right as rain. Of course, she'll feel on-goin' aches an' twinges fer months t'come. Wouldn't give tuppence fer her fightin' skills with that arm though fer, oh, a year at least."

"Sh-t."

—O—

Joanna had given her wounded partner a couple of hours to recover somewhat from the medication given by Blaine—laudanum being strong stuff. Then, taking her life in her hands, she had entered the large rear cabin to console the patient.

"Gim'me a shot o'rum, darlin'; I dam' well needs it."

"Rum's out, dear." Joanna sat on a hard-backed chair by the side of Sandy's bunk. "Blaine sez spirits is off fer at least a fortnight."

"F—kin' Hell." Sandy wriggled under her blanket, grimacing the while. "Shot t'pieces by a mad b-tch, an' now can't even get drunk t'ferget it all." Sandy glared at her loved partner, delicate beads of sweat forming on her forehead. "How long till I'm back on my feet? I got a meeting with a lady I don't wan'na miss."

"Lay back an' rest, darlin'." Joanna tried to comfort her lover. "It'll be some days yet before y'can walk the deck agin. But Blaine sez everything's gon'na be fine, in the long run; just give yerself time t'heal, is all."

"F—k."

—O—

The voyage back to Tortuga necessarily led past Hispaniola, which gave the still fuming Captain of the Pirates an idea.

"Carling?" A small group were standing on the Amazon's quarterdeck. Joanna having brought her lieutenants together for a discussion on future plans. "What say we intercept the boat Lockhart'll be returning to Jamaica on? There won't have been time fer a message t'have been sent to him; his g-dd-m wife'll simply be awaitin' his natural return. We could overtake his ship, haul him off, an' hold him t'ransom, instead o'that crazed b-tch he's gotten himself entangled with."

"Don't know what boat he'll be on, ma'am." Thus Carling, with a shrug.

"Well, we could try." Joanna not taking no for an answer.

"Won't do, ma'am." Blaine spoke up, shaking his head. "There's a big trade between the islands; at any time there'll be swarms o'ships an' trading boats wallowing around between Jamaica an' Hispaniola. Without prior information there's no way we can jest turn up beside the particular vessel Lockhart happens t'be on."

"An' there's the Navy frigates, ma'am." Benjamin Oates here put in his piece-of-eight's worth. "What? Three o'the buggers at the moment; doin' shifts between the islands. Wouldn't wan'na come up aginst one o'those buggers; not with their disciplined crews, fancy gunwork, an' Captains' whose only idea in life's a hefty tonnage o'prize money. Once they sighted us, they'd never bloody get off our cutty sarks; not even if the weather was ever so, ma'am."

"Oh, bugger." Another plan gone t'hell. Joanna crossed to the bulwark and leaned over to spit comprehensively.

—O—

Three days later Lockhart was reunited with his wife. Sophy, as she calmly explained to her husband, had run out the house, hidden in thick bushes, and observed the departure of the defeated pirates with their wounded. Now the two were sitting in her boudoir once more, taking afternoon tea as if nothing had happened.

"And ye say they was after the Senlis diamonds, an' whatnot else o'the bloody jewels, dearest?"

"Just that, darlin'; and me, it transpired." Sophy nodded as she recounted the gist of events for the third time that day; exaggerating as she found necessary. "Two women in charge, so it appeared; one, of all things, a black-haired dam' m-l—-o, would ye believe? The short blonde b-tch, waving a cutlass around as if it gave her Divine powers, as much as said I was gon'na be her individual slave, that she had all sorts o'plans fer,—b-tch."

Lockhart mused on this for a while, nodding to himself as he ran over the scenario his wife had unfolded to his astounded ears on arrival back home.

"Yes, yes, I've heard some o'these wanton piratical jades has deformed ideas along the, er, sexual lines." He shook his head sadly, at certain people's ideas of the moral virtues. "Well, love, they no more got the diamonds than they got you, as it turns out. Thank God."

"Thank God, an' a double-charged horse pistol, dear." Sophy nodded complacently. "Remember, when I first told you of my defensive plans when you are away? I always knew a strong dose o'lead would see such brigands off smartly. They don't like bein' shot with lead ball, an' no mistake."

"Yes, quite clearly, dearest." Lockhart bucked up as the outcome of his wife's action suggested itself to him. "You plugged her straight in the chest, eh?"

"As dead-centre a shot as I ever fired, darlin'." Sophy grinned with pleasure as she recalled the action. "You might have thought I was target-shootin', ball went plumb in her right shoulder, an' exited out her back in a spray o'blood an' bits o' flesh. I was quite pleased."

The fact she was rather embellishing the course of events here didn't bother her at all. After all, if you had a good tale to tell, why defeat its purpose by a niggling lack of juicy detail?

"Nicely done, dear, very nicely done indeed." Lockhart, knowing no better, crossed one pirate off his list of possible future unwanted visitors. "Y'know, dear, workin' in an environment so close t'these kind'a degenerates is gettin' t'be rather more trouble than the dam thing's worth, I'm comin' t'believe."

"Especially when they try t'pinch my beautiful jewels." Sophy could see clearly through a morning mist as well as anyone. "Navy contracts is all very well, Thomas, but leading a quiet life, somewhere respectable and of our own social class would be nice. Hampshire, to my taste. I believe there's an old three decker East Indiaman leaving fer Home just next week."

"A timely suggestion, my dear." Lockhart was by no means adverse to this plan; he having had, himself, just about as much of the awful surroundings of Jamaica and Hispaniola as he thought necessary. "Give me a couple of days t'think about it, an' we'll see, eh?"

"Quite, dear, quite." Sophy poured them both another cup of tea, confident her intentions had swayed her husband's plans in a positive manner.

—O—

A week later the Amazon lay off the harbour of Cayona in Tortuga. Sandy was still a prisoner in the aft-cabin but had been told she may come on deck the following day. Meanwhile Joanna, blithely unaware her target had just that morning boarded a large ex-East Indiaman with her jewels and husband bound for England and peace and quiet, sat at the gunroom table, sheets of paper before her and a pot of ink and sharpened quill ready to hand—deep in making plans for a further attack on the Senlis Diamonds and the Lockharts' in general—she now holding a personal grudge in the matter.

"More pirates, that's the answer." Joanna nodded energetically to herself. "Last time we only had a picnic party; next time it'll be a bloody army. I'll take the whole bloody crew, if necessary. Fire a bloody horse-pistol, dam' her; I'll haul a bloody eighteen-pounder ashore, an' blast her f—kin' billet t'dust around her shapely ears, see if I don't. We can excavate the dam' diamonds from the rubble, afterwards."

She scribbled a few more lines on the piece of parchment, then tossed the quill aside, pleased with her plan.

"Hoi, Jones? Jones, ya scum."

The gunroom door flew open and a wizened old man, all of sixty if a day and sporting a wholly debased expression gained from long years of wholesale nastiness, looked round its corner.

"Wha'is'it?" He being a man of little learning, no discipline, and dam' the consequences.

"Jones, ya ratbag, get up on deck an' tell quartermaster Thomson t'up anchor an' head fer Jamaica."

"God, not agin, ma'am?" Jones, through long service, had the habit of easy talk with his superiors. "We ain't gon'na face that crazy b-tch agin?"

"We dam' well are, ya undisciplined pisspot." Joanna growled low, having set notions of what exactly she was going to do on her next confrontation with the owner of the Senlis Diamonds. "Now get yer arse on deck, an' spread the joyous news, ape."

—O—

It was Blaine, always one for covering every eventuality, who put forward the suggestion, one day out from Jamaica, they might send a longboat ashore at Montego with a nondescript crew, to infest the local gin-shops and rum-joints in order to gain any new information on what Mr Lockhart might have thought about his beauteous wife being the cynosure of Piratical eyes, not to mention her jewels. Joanna at first demurred, she wanting blood, and that quickly; but, on sober thought, or as sober as she ever was, decided to accept this deviation to her original plan.

So it was that, a day later, these spies reported back and she discovered that, far from still residing in their coastal villa, the Lockharts' were already halfway to England. She was not happy.

"God dammit." She crossed the quarterdeck of the Amazon back and forth with long angry strides. "All I ever wanted was those dam' diamonds. At a pinch I could'a foregone swiping that damnable b-tch fer ransom. But no, she has t'go an' spoil the whole g-dd-m plan. Why'n hell did she have a bloody horse-pistol t'hand? Does she practice shootin' at the servants, or what? God dammit. An' now the trollop's beaten me, gone. God dammit."

"Rest easy, darlin'." On the second day of her release back into society and the open air Sandy, still heavily bandaged and shuffling, placed a calming hand round her lover's waist. "Just as well they beat a retreat; if'n I'd met up with the f—kin' unbridled b-tch agin, I'd probably have reverted t'my younger nature—an' ye know full well what I was like when I was jest a young up an' comin' Pirate, don'cher lady?"

"Dam' straight I do." Joanna looked down into the face of the woman she loved with all her soul—supposing the blonde still accorded haven to such. "Those were the days, dear. At least then you could expect bloody people t'fall at yer feet with heartfelt cries of woe, beseeching mercy. But not nowadays, no not t'day. T'day any stuck-up Lady, with her nose in the air, pulls out a bloody horse-pistol and blasts ya nearly in half; then has the effrontery to swan off back to England without so much as a backward glance. Dam'."

The two Ladies of the Sea leaned on the bulwark looking out over the bright blue waves, whitecaps dancing merrily to the horizon.

"Well, never fear, darlin'." Sandy turned to grin at her partner, standing morosely beside her. "There's other treasures in the world, still. Why, didn't we hear from that broken-down merchant banker in Kingston, just last month, the Church of San Miguel, over on the Spanish Main, has silverware an' gold goblets worth a King's ransom?"

"Don't talk t'me about bloody ransoms, dear." Joanna shook her head, dark locks flowing in the breeze. "I've had my fill o' dam' ransoms. Loot an' plunder, now, that's a different kettle o'fish altogether. Hum,—gold goblets, y'say?"

"An' silver altar-ware that'd make yer eyes pop with jealousy." Sandy had the appropriate details to hand. " A Kin—that is, worth a bloody fortune, an' all sittin' in a unguarded church jest waitin' t'be released from durance vile. What d'ya say, love o' my life?"

For answer Joanna turned to the men awaiting orders on the deck behind the two women.

"Hoi, Thomson, change course; we're headin' fer the Spanish Main, an' make it snappy."

The End

—O—

To be continued in the next story in 'Captain Clayton, Pirate', series 01.

—OOO—