'The Trial of Blueskin Barnes'
by Phineas Redux
Summary:— Joanna Clayton is Captain of her own pirate ship the 'Amazon', accompanied by her sweetheart Sandy Parker. Time, 171—and something. An acquaintance of the ladies is put on trial and they audaciously set out to rescue him.
Note:— Charles 'Blueskin' Barnes is, of course, based on the real-life Joseph 'Blueskin' Blake; who was engaged in criminal activities in England with the notorious Thief-taker General, Jonathan Wild in or around the period the present story is set.
Disclaimer:— All characters are copyright ©2018 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 some swearing in this story; they are pitiless pirates, y'know.
"Silence in Court, y'hear; clam up, will yer? All rise fer His Highnes—er, Honour, Judge Andrewes."
The Court was in fact the public room of the 'Cask and Peg' Inn, Kingston, Jamaica. The address to the Court could well not have been all it might have; but this was Barnaby Collins, Clerk of the Court, unusually not quite drunk. And the Court itself probably wasn't going to function with quite the solid foundation in legal professionalism that its sisters in London would; but this was the territory of Andrew Andrewes, the only British Judge on the island, even if he were 76, addicted to the rum jug, and openly known for taking bribes of astronomical amounts to, er, adjust his sentences. He, in fact, being the only present face of British Justice in Jamaica, and affiliated territories.
This bright sunny morning of March, 171-and something, the public room was crowded with eager gossips, men and women with nothing better to do, and the waiting prisoner himself—perhaps at this moment the most famous person on the island—to wit, Charles 'Blueskin' Barnes, the pirate.
Aged somewhere in his mid-twenties, the prisoner had a lifetime's felonious activity behind him, not the least of which was his career as a pirate. Given his curious sobriquet as a result of a powder burn on his left cheek, caused by someone arguing with him over a matter of 3 moidores and a round of Cheddar cheese; this sadly anonymous assailant finally deciding that a ball in the head would suit his piratical opponent admirably; sadly however he missed, if only by a fraction.
Caught dead drunk in a grog-shop close by Kingston harbour, arraigned to appear in Court on this auspicious day, attended by 12 good men and true (Ha-Ha, in Jamaica?) as a swiftly cobbled together jury, it was the hospitable intention of the Court, and Judge Andrewes, to give the prisoner the full benefit, without let or hindrance, of the whole majesty of the Jamaican Court—before having him off to the town square, where he was appointed to hang on the gallows for all to see and enjoy, jiust after midday. The crowds there already being enormous, as if it were a real market, or festival day.
"Sure everyone's in their places?" This, in a low whisper, from an anxious Sandy Parker.
"Yeah, keep yer voice low." Joanna Clayton, Pirate Queen, sat on the narrow bench at the back of the long room, trying to look inconspicuous under her three-cornered hat. "Pipe down."
"But, are ye sure—"
"Listen, lady, everything's goin' t'plan." Joanna, Sandy's everlasting lover, cast her eyes ceiling-wards. "Wish ye'd get over this tendency ye always shows, o' bein' doubtful o' every bloody detail of a plan jest before the action commences; get's on my ti—nerves, every bloody time, gal."
"Sorry, I'm sure."
Sandy, sitting on the hard bench beside her amour, affected a small pout; which her partner ignored as a pathetic play for attention, also as being irrelevant to the purpose in hand.
"Everything's fine." Joanna tried to calm her lover's jittery nerves. "We've five crewmen sittin' here an' there about the room, as it is. When the time's right we'll take everyone here down like a pack of puppies meeting a coupl'a grizzly bears. Now, shut up fer a bit, will ye."
She and her lifetime partner, not usual visitors to the island or Kingston itself, had decided that, scoundrel and scum as he certainly was, Blueskin would have to be rescued, if only for the honour of the Pirate Brotherhood—he having till recently been part of the crew of Joanna's barque, the Amazon.
To this end she had spent three days and a sleepless night figuring out a plan so complex, so detailed, so needful of almost the whole of her crew, so bloody expensive, that now she was tired, worried, sorrowful over the loss of so much money—certainly gone to a lost cause, ie, Blueskin's moral inner being, which everyone perfectly well knew didn't exist—that she now sat in the Court nursing both a shocking headache and a bad temper, both of equal intensity.
"—'ave the prisoner brought in." This order was aimed, by Collins, at the few red-coated militia present who acted as guards.
There was the usual scuffling, shuffling about, noise of people having their feet stepped on by uncaring military boots, and not liking it at all, until finally a small group of militia re-appeared with the young jackanapes held between them. Dumped unceremoniously on a bench at the front of the Court, Barnes was by no means a sight to soothe the troubled eye—in fact, quite the opposite. Of middling height, he had a thin chest and gangling limbs, a narrow head with straggling greasy black hair, tight narrow pale lips and, when he spoke, a Limehouse drawl that grated on the ears. His usual expression being that of one who had just picked a money-pouch out of the pocket of a passing, apparently rich, merchant and found it empty but for a copper bawbee.
"Quiet in the bloody Court, there."
This loudly delivered peremptory order came, again, from Collins; who had just perceived the approach of Judge Andrewes in person.
Andrewes when young may well have had good looks and a commanding presence, as well as having an intelligence to rival all his peers. But now, at 76, he had gone to seed shockingly. A lifetime's slavery to the rum jug; a likewise period steadily losing whatever mortal nature he might have started with and accepting larger and ever larger bribes; allied to the general senescence of age, had all combined to produce the man present today in the Court—a shattered wreck, who ought by rights to have been decently pensioned-off years since. But this was Jamaica in the early 1700's, and he, unhappily, was all there was for the nonce.
Andrewes, with all due formality and obsequience from his attendants, sat on a high-backed chair behind a long deal table, and the Court was officially sitting on its prisoner.
There were two solicitors present, one defending the pirate; the other prosecuting. The fact they had met privately just a couple of hours previously, over a very fine Madeira sherry, to thrash out just how easily the prosecution would win its case, and what private remuneration the defending counsel would receive for acquiescing so gracefully in said decision, having nothing to do with anything.
"Mr Hemmings, 'ave the first witness up, if ye will." Judge Andrewes' voice was, if no longer deep, at least of a curiously penetrating dullness.
"Call Mr Benjamin Scroope."
The said witness was pushed forward from the rear of the Court, to stand on the open floor before the Judge's table, the single chairs of the attentive jury to his left.
Mr Hemmings, for the prosecution, took stock of his witness down his long nose, apparently finding little to recommend him.
"Mr Scroope, where were you on the morning o' the eighteenth January, last?"
"Where were you on January eighteenth last, sir?"
"What's that ye say, son?"
"Oh, God, he's as deaf as a plank." Sandy groaned, beside her heartmate.
"Quit complainin'." Joanna shuffled anxiously on the bench, she having enough worries as it was at the moment. "Let's hear what's goin' on, fer God's sake."
"The eighteenth—the eighteenth January last, sir. What?"
This was delivered, close to Scroope's ear, by an exasperated Hemmings shouting his loudest.
"Dam' ye, sir, hold yer bloody tongue—I can hear ye, as well's another, dam' yer impertinence. What was that ye said, again?"
Raising his arms in the air, then letting them fall to his sides in disgust, Hemmings regarded his witness with that interest a spectator regards the giraffe at London's Tower zoo—an animal which quite blatantly shouldn't exist by all the laws of Nature but, dam'me, does, all the same. Then, being a fellow of infinite resource, Hemmings had a brainwave.
He stepped back, looked his victim straight in the eye, and nearly whispered, but forming each word precisely with his lips, his question.
"Where were you on the eighteenth January last, sir?"
"Oh, I knows exactly where I was, yes, certainly."
An unbelieving but overawed susurration of respect flickered through the crowded Court as the audience took due cognisance of Hemmings' deep cunning.
"And if ye would honour the Court with a description o' same, sir, we await your words with interest."
"Ah well," Scroope, now completely aware of what was expected of him, launched into his story like a good 'un. "I was attending the fortnightly sitting of the Hare and Hounds Club, sir. It's a small private drinking and eating club a group of fellow acquaintances and I have thought fit to found, for the purposes of having a comfortable evening's entertainment together; situate in the 'Cardinal's Hat' Inn, on Sycamore Street, Kingston, sir. We eats, sir, and we drinks, sir; but never to excess. We also holds intelligent conversation, sir, in the manner that Mr Spectator so much desires these days, as an honourable employment of a gentleman's time."
"And what occurred on this particular evening, sir?"
"Ah well, there ye have it in a nutshell, yer Honour." Scroope nodded wisely, as if perfectly aware of the importance of this question. "Our meetings take place in a private room to the rear of the Inn, sir. But not so far away we cannot, on occasion, hear the, er, entertainments going forward of the gross crowd in the Public Room, sir."
"Something happened, out of order at that time, did it, sir?"
"Most certainly it did, sir." Scroope's expression turned to one of contempt and disgust. "Hearing what to our ears sounded like a commotion or, indeed, a veritable battle in progress, we came through from our private room and found anarchy in progress, sir, outright anarchy."
"Please elucidate, sir, the Court is entranc—er, I mean the Court is most interested in your words. Pray continue."
"A form of combat was in progress when I and my fellow members entered the room, sir." Scroope nodded confidently, having been well-primed a day beforehand in his tale by his defence solicitor, Mr James Fflynne, now sitting anxiously close-by. "At first the general rowdiness, and flying dust, made it difficult to see the participants; but then I attained a good view by standing on a chair."
"The fool thought he was at a prize-fight, I bet." Sandy was dismissive in tone.
"Pipe down, gal, I wan'na hear this." Joanna shaking her head in disgust.
"Only sayin'." From a disgruntled Sandy.
"Well, don't." From an even more disgruntled Pirate Queen, pretty sure she was approaching the end of her tether.
"And what then took place, sir?" Hemmings here trying valiantly to keep his witness on the straight and narrow road of their pre-prepared statement.
"It transpired, sir, that the dam' defendant there thought it right to bring a knife to a fist-fight—dammed unsporting." Here Scroope paused, running the scene over in his mind once more, and finding less moral foundation in the defendant than before. "Anyway's, he stabs his opponent, a hefty lookin' chap, in the face with a long-bladed knife, then runs fer the door and disappears. That's it, sir."
There was a low growl of disapproval from the packed assembly as they considered the awful ungentlemanliness of the defendant; he, Blueskin, having the perfectly respectable culmination to his involvement in the fracas—which certainly would have been of his own making—of being knocked into his own cocked hat by his opponent, but deciding contrary he'd sharpen his knife-fighting skills instead: dammed unsporting, the crowd as a whole obviously felt. Those nearby as safely could regarding the defendant with disgust and contempt, but rather glad they weren't sitting too close to him, all the same. It was, certainly, going to be a very nice hanging later in the day, they all felt.
"And you can identify this knife-wielding attacker, sir?" Hemmings attempting to bring the trial back on track.
"Oh, without doubt, sir." Scroope's great moment had arrived. "There the reprobate sits, as surely as can be. That's him, an' no mistake."
"Thank you, sir, you may stand down."
"What an imbecilic story." Sandy was outraged. "Who cares about a knife-fight? Happens everywhere, all the time. What goaded Blueskin in'ta it, that's the question? What was this other chap up to? Dam' one-sided lies. I've a good mind t'spring Blueskin on the evidence of that alone, dam'me."
"Will ye shut up? People'll hear ye." Joanna was beginning to find her partner more annoying than usual. "An' jest recall we ain't here t'spring Blueskin 'cause we loves the b-st-rd; we're here t'uphold the dignity an' honour o'the Pirate Brotherhood. That's why I've gone t'a bloody deal o' trouble an' f-ckin' expence t'see this dam' thing through."
"Sorry I spoke." Sandy, being mean, just because she could.
"Next witness." In the dull tones of Judge Andrewes.
Mr Hawkins, a stout individual who obviously felt himself to be of more than common importance in the community, stepped up with an air of a Prince condescending to the crowd.
"And what do you do, sir?" Hemmings eyeing this witness with more favour.
"I said, what is your standing in the society of Kingston, sir." Hemmings now realising he was faced with a self-important character of no small degree. "What do you do, for work, sir."
"Oh, I'm a silversmith, sir. I works, as it were, in silver."
"And have ye had any contact with the prisoner at the bar, of any notable worth?"
Perceiving his witness was not quite as quick on the uptake as might have been desired, Hemmings made things easier for Hawkins.
"Mr Barnes, the scrawny, uninspiring ruffian sitting over there, sir."
"Objection, your Honour—personalities." From Mr Fflynne, sensibly outraged.
"Mr Hemmings, if there is any execration pertaining to the defendant going forward during this trial it'll come from me, beggin' yer favour, sir." Andrewes at his most sarcastic.
"As your Honour wishes." Hemmings not at all put-out, rather pleased by his effect on the audience, in fact. "Mr Hawkins, you met the individual Barnes, sitting to your left there, a month ago, did you not?"
"That I did, sir, and I ma—"
"If you please, please inform the court of the circumstances and outcome of your, ahmm, late converse with said defendant, if ye will."
"God, this's goin' t'be a long bloody mornin'." Sandy shuffled uncomfortably on the bench.
"Jest let things go along, dear, we'll get t'where we want ter be soon enough, lassie." Joanna giving her edgy partner an encouraging smile, only slightly tinged with a proto-snarl.
"Can't be quick enough fer me." Sandy, ignoring her partner's blackening brow, carried on innocently. "Are ye sure, doll, that fool of a first mate, Harrison, is gon'na follow the plan? I can see him now, sittin' over there in the far corner, lookin' far too much like a minister amongst his congregation fer my likin'."
"Sandy, will ye, fer God's sake, give me peace? I feel like my head's about t'bloody explode—an' it's not because o' my bloody headache."
"Sure, sure, yeah, alright." Sandy gave in with a dignified air. "If that's how ye feel."
"Well, let me see, it being all of a full month an' more since, ye understands."
Hawkins here fell into a reverie which, after the court had suffered in silence for half a minute, begged fair to go on till Doomsday.
"Mr Hawkins, sir, are ye awake?" Hemmings wholly losing patience in the end. "Did ye hear my question, sir?"
"Plainly, sir, plainly." Hawkins adopted an expression of mild distaste, not liking to be addressed in this dismissive tone. "I was only bringing my thoughts into a suitable progression o'relevant details, sir; as the philosophers o'the day require. Well, it was a Tuesday morning, and I was standing at my counter attending to my accounts, when Mr Barnes here barged in the entrance door with less finesse, as the Frenchies say, than required by a gentleman. Banging the door back against the wall an' cracking the plaster, dam' him. Then he puts a dirty cloth bag on the counter, before my eyes, an' commences t'speak."
He again paused contemplatively, or perhaps for a spot of inductive reasoning; the court, anyway, once more becoming browned-off with the silence, broken only by the numerous flies and mosquitos happily circling their captive audience.
"Will you bloody get on with it, my butt's dyin', here." Sandy, muttering, out of patience entirely.
"Shush." Joanna, shaking her head censoriously. "If there's any bloody dyin' t'be done around these parts, it'll bloody well be me who's responsible fer same, ducks."
"God, what a woman." Sandy placed a gloved hand, she having nasty scarring on her hands from a gunpowder explosion some time since, on her lover's shoulder. "That's the kind'a thinkin' that makes me love ye so hard."
"Sir, will ye bloody—er, I mean, will you please carry on? The Court awaits the body o' your evidence." Hemmings, feeling he too was losing control of circumstances.
"Oh well, as to that, it's easily described." Hawkins, comfortably at his ease, ignoring the growing air of dislike washing over the audience towards him. "What's this, sez I. Silver, sez he, How much? It turnin' out, as ye'll no doubt have observed fer yersel's, he was in the way o' wantin' t'sell same."
"Jo, can I pull my horse-pistol out an' blow this f-cker's brains out here n'now? He's really gettin' under my skin."
"In a court-room? Before there's any need?" Joanna was appalled, seeing all her carefully laid plans endangered. "Are ye mad, gal? Pull y're longcoat tighter around ye, don't let anyone see y're armed t'the bloody teeth, fer God's sake."
"I wouldn't go as far as that, dear." Sandy always liking to get the facts right. "Only three pistols, an' my cutlass. An' only one o' them's a horse-pistol."
"Enough f-ckin' firepower t'sink a bloody frigate." Joanna was unimpressed by this explanation. "Sure everything's loaded? Ye'd look a fool if ye brought yer broadside t'bear on Judge Andrewes there, an' nuthin' fired, ha-ha-ha."
"Fool, ingrate." Sandy sniffed contemptuously. "Jest wait till ye need's me; see what happens then, lady."
"Kindly carry on, sir." Hemmings hoping for the best.
"What've ye got?, sez I." Hawkins smiling, in full control of his anecdote. "He then commences t'tip out the bag on the counter-top, thus revealing a jumble of all sorts; but all pieces in themselves, y'see."
"Please explain to the jury what is meant by that, if ye will." Hemmings now feeling things were going straighter.
"Well, ye see, there's silver, an' then there's, as it were, silver." Hawkins turned his head to survey his audience, but finding there only blank incomprehension, permitted himself to explain further. "There's scrap silver, bits an' pieces, broken up, cut down, or banged flat with a mallet. Then there's your pieces in one piece, as it were; goblets, tankards, bowls, plates, an' so on. Mr Barnes' pile bein' wholly of the latter."
"And how did you find this, er, multifarious assortment of silver ornaments struck ye, Mr Hawkins?" Hemmings at his most suave, seeing victory approaching.
"With dubiety, sir. With wholly dubious dubiety." Hawkins, unaware of his torturing of the English language, sailed on regardless; indeed, rather pleased with himself. "In short, I wasn't havin' any o' it at all, sir. I bein' able t'see a church steeple at midday with the best, sir."
"It was all swag, sir." Hawkins nodded furiously, sure of himself and his conclusions. "The whole lot had been stolen from various individuals in the vicinity o'Kingston, or somewhere's, I have no doubt of it. I'll have none o' it, sez I, f—, er, that is, get lost, sez I. And he did, not without leaving a fine selection o'round curses in his wake, mind ye."
"So that's what happened to that pile o'silver that went missing from the Amazon's hold?" Sandy was outraged, this act of thievery shocking her conservative soul. "When we get Blueskin back t'the ship I'll be havin' a word with the b-st-rd."
"Judge Andrewes, if I may interject?" This from Mr Fflynne on his feet for the first time in earnest.
"Carry on, Mr Fflynne."
"Mr Hawkins, how exactly did you know this silver was stolen?" Fflynne being of that character which needed absolute logical resolution in any argument. "I take it each piece did not show with a little paper label giving the name and address of its previous, no doubt devastated, owner?"
"Well, it stood t'reason, sir." Hawkins paused, to regard this new upstart with a beady untrusting eye, as well he might. "Having been in the silver trade fer thirty-five year I hopes I can tell stolen property at a glance by now; and I did on this occasion, I assures ye; nothin' more certain."
"Oh well, the court must accept your, um, professional opinion on the matter, I'm sure." Spoken by Fflynne with a caustic tone that made Hawkins' face turn red with anger. "Dismissed."
Mr Hawkins, sent packing in this contemptuous manner, stoically went back to the obscurity at the back of the court-room with his head in the air.
At this juncture Mr Fflynne, feeling, no doubt, he had till now been rather left out, speared the Judge with his beady reddish eye.
"My Lord, may I call a witness of my own fer the defence?"
"Well, if ye think there's anythin' t'be gained, I suppose ye must." Andrewes agreed with reluctance, already having his eye on a square lunch, of four courses and three bottles, he hoped to meet and valiantly defeat in just over the hour.
"Call Mr Arthur Davidson."
Mr Davidson, having to be extricated from a side-room where he had managed to get his hands on a glass or so of grog, was ultimately brought into the slapdash court by a red-faced militia-man whose idea of performing this duty was of the dragging by the scruff of the neck variety, and no questions asked.
" 'ere, leave off, won't yer, ye b-st-rd."
"Mr Davidson?" From an irate Judge Andrewes, determined the only one swearing mighty oaths in his court-room would bloody well be himself and no other.
"This is a Court o' Law." Andrewes gazed at the new witness with a complete lack of the milk of Human Kindness—the last time he having tasted that innocent beverage being now upwards of thirty year since. "I'll trouble ye t'show as much of a polite attention t'the Court, and its officers, as ye find consequent to the honour o' a gentleman, sir."
"Mr Davidson?" Fflyne thinking it high time he brought some order to the proceedings.
"Is he an imbecile, or what?" Sandy leaned forward, finding herself interested for the first time. "Sounds like it."
"Let the man speak." Joanna shook her head, trying to keep her own voice low and quiet. "He's had a glass or two, that's what's the matter."
"Wish I could get a glass or two, right now, dear." Sandy actually licked her lips as the thought percolated her bored spirits. "Rum, fer choice, but a nice glass o' geneva wouldn't be amiss, either."
"Sandy, fer God's sake keep yer mind—what little o' such is rattlin' around in that skull o' your'n t'day—on the important subjec' o' the day." Joanna nudged her lover cruelly in the side with her fist. "So pipe down, dam' it."
"Ouch, that hurt." Sandy looked for a moment as if she was considering some sort of physical retaliation of a high and condign nature but, glancing around the packed room, thought better of it. "Jest wait, madam, jest wait. Tonight ain't so far off, dear, jest wait."
"Do pipe down, gal." Joanna taking her partner's words at their true value, hot air. "My bloody headache's comin' back, an' it's your bloody fault."
"Good God, man, what in hell d'ye want o' me?" Davidson peered blearily at Fflynne with utter incomprehension of his surroundings. "Ye've asked the same bloody question upwards o' three times already."
"Mr Davidson," Andrewes now feeling it necessary to bring forward his big guns. "another outbreak o' language an' dis-respect o' that nature an' ye'll be spendin' the rest o' the week in a cell. Understand me, sirrah?"
"Mr Dav—ahem. What were ye doin' on the afternoon of Friday the twelfth last month?" Fflynne bravely aiming to recapture an air of sobriety in the court.
"Aye, well, there ye are, certainly." Here Davidson, obviously not quite clear in his mind, decided he had done enough explaining for the day.
"Well, sir?" Fflynne tried to jog the man's memory, regretting with every passing second his decision to bring forward this hopeless witness. "The twelfth, Friday, last month? What were ye doin', o' a nature respecting Mr Barnes, here?"
"F-ckin' Barnes?" F-ckin' Barnes?" Suddenly au fait again, Davidson cast a red eye round the court, and unfortunately spied his apparent Nemesis. "F-ckin' Hell, there the bloody b-st-rd sits, as jolly as a pigeon pie, by God. Here, someone lend me a pistol, so's I'kin shoot the f-ckin' degenerate ne'er-do-well."
"Ha-Ha." From Sandy, enjoying every appalling second of the show.
"Jeesus Chr-st." From Joanna, seeing her carefully-laid plans on the teetering verge of defeat.
The noise in the semi-courtroom was immense as everybody spoke, shouted, or simply yelled at the tops of their voices. Presently, however, some sort of order was restored; everyone returning to their seats while Judge Andrewes, purple in the face, glowered horribly over the heads of the packed audience, but in particular at the source of his embarrassment.
"Militia, there. Take this hopeless fool to the town jail, an' lock him in the smallest foulest cell we have on offer." He fumed and swore mighty world-shaking oaths under his breath for an appreciable time then, recovering somewhat, addressed the disappearing back of the scoundrel who had bid fair to bring the honour of his Court about the Judge's ears. "And tell the jailer if he doesn't actually throw the dam' key away, if it's lost fer an appreciable length o' time this comin' month I fer one won't dam' well complain. Right, where were we? You can sit down, Mr Fflynne; and the next witness of yours you call had better have a nearer appearance' o' belongin' t'the Human Race than your last. Mr Hemmings, if yer please?"
Hemmings, inwardly glad he had not called Davidson—which had been an earlier thought of his to do just that—now felt it time to spring his pet witness on an unsuspecting court.
"Call Mrs Compton."
"Who the f-ck's she?" Sandy, non-plussed.
"Ye'll find out in ten seconds; shut up, fer God's sake, woman." From Joanna, beginning to snap.
"I'm only interested in who's who, dear." Sandy loved nothing more than to annoy her lover, even in wholly unnecessary situations. "After that last idiot, bless him, she'll have to go some to equal him. Wonder if she'll be drunk, too?"
"Gawd, give my ears a rest, gal. I begs yer."
When the lady in question burst forth from the eagerly listening crowd she turned out to be a buxom woman of middle years, well proportioned and dressed in red-checked dimity.
At her name Sandy and Joanna, sitting at the back of the room, felt a further susurration flickering through the seated spectators, though this manifestation of the underlying feelings of the crowd appeared to be one of shocked embarrassment—the pirate ladies both began to wonder, shooting inquisitive glances between each other.
"Mrs Compton," And even Mr Hemmings, on his part, appeared to be treating his witness with an unusual delicacy. "may the court know your, er, occupation?"
At these last words he shot the lady a curious glance, partially made up of enquiry, but mostly of a badly hidden plea for her to keep to her script, worked out in intense detail by him in close confabulation the evening before.
"I keeps a baw—er, small Inn, on the Wharf Way, near t'the harbour, sir." Having been provided with a straight-backed chair she took advantage of this to sit on with the air of a job well done. "I—entertains, gentlemen of an evening who may choose t'use my, um, Inn's facilities. Having a large, er, number o' female servants, I finds this no handicap, as ye might say, sir."
"Gawd, she runs a bawdy-house." Sandy was entranced, bucking up immensely. "Can't wait t'see how this goes."
"Jeez." From her glowering partner.
Even Judge Andrewes had risen to the occasion, sitting up in his chair, leaning forward to get a better view of the witness by fiddling with his pince-nez. It might almost have been surmised by the intelligent on-looker, on whom nothing is lost, that the Judge had a personal interest in identifying the lady—whom he may indeed have met in past years, as a client of her favours. The frown creasing his senile brow showing that he was considering the matter, as far as he found himself capable of doing so, anyway.
"Mr Hemmings, ye'll be treating this here Lady with all due respect, I'm thinkin'?"
"In'course, Your Honour." Hemmings nodded off-handedly, knowing full-well the source of the Judge's sudden interest. "Now, Mrs Compton, about your, ahh, association with the prisoner in the dock—"
"In the Dock, sir?" Mrs Compton being a kind-hearted woman, though not of the highest available intellect, had gotten the wrong end of the stick. "Who poor body's fallen in the Dock, sir? I hope's as men as are 'ere will rush down t'save the poor man afore he gets hisself drownded t'death?"
"He-he-he-he—" From Sandy, losing her grip altogether.
"God, control yersel', woman, y're makin' a spectacle o'us." Joanna turning pale with horror, thinking everyone nearby was looking at them.
"Mrs Compton," Hemmings bravely struggling to reclaim the high ground, before it was too late. "If you'll just tell the court about your last meeting with the prisoner; er, yes, the prisoner; that's him, over there."
"Oh aye, him." Mrs Compton observed Blueskin with a cold eye. "That'll be him, right enough."
"Your connection with the prisoner, ma'am?" After a further flight of seconds had flown, unhindered and unused, on their way through Time.
"What about the louse?"
"Personalities." Shouted Fflynne, from his chair, not bothering to rise for the occasion.
"Mr Hemmings, what did I say about keepin' yer witnesses in order?" From a sarcastic, but secretly amused, Andrewes.
"Mrs Compton, name-calling won't do, y'know." Hemmings searched around for a suitable analogy. "The poor man's to be hung in around four hours, anyway, so calling him names aforehand is, er, clearly superfluous, ma'am."
"Mr Hemmings, the trial isn't over yet." Judge Andrewes now angered by the solicitor taking out of his hands what was the prerogative of the Bench. "Kindly keep your opinion of what the Fates may hold in store fer the prisoner t'yourself, if possible."
"Your Honour is, of course, entirely correct." Hemmings almost achieving the act of making this sound like a reprimand to the Judge from himself. "Mrs Compton, what state was the prisoner in when last you, arhh, were associated with him?"
"Inebriation, sir, complete inebriation, that's what, sir." The lady raised her chin in the air, as being offended to the nth degree; which, considering her calling of over forty year, would have been astonishing, if true. "He came into my House half-seas adrift, sir; and within another half-hour he was completely soused. Had arrived dragging a dirty jute bag by his side; wouldn't be parted with it no-how. When he went upstairs with, er,—upstairs, one o' my, umm, servants came back down t'tell me he was attempting to, er, pay, er, for things, with silver plate."
Knowing full-well the treacherous ground he was about to launch out on Hemmings himself here chose to let another fair slice of unaffected Time slip idly by, before breaking the silence once more.
"Mrs Compton, silver plate?"
"Yes, jest that, sir." Mrs Compton was obviously still mightily offended by this underhand deed. "As if everyone in Kingston doesn't know by now I deals in hard cash; pieces-o'-eight on the barrel; or whatever else currency o' the realm happens t'be available to my customers. Silver pots an' pans, and plates, huh. An' silver only on his say-so, too? Ha. Dam' his impertinence."
"What then occurred, madam?" Hemmings feeling the climax was approaching.
"He set up a caterwauling that'd have made a screech owl jealous, sir." Mrs Compton sent the unhappy prisoner a contemptuous glance. "I had no choice but to have my man, John, take him by the scruff o' the neck, an' toss him back in'ta the street like the scum he was, beggin' yer Honour's pardon."
"This is fun." Sandy was at last enjoying the spectacle. "What'd he do next, Jo, shoot the b-gger?"
"Give it up, woman. God." Joanna growled low; to no purpose, as she well knew.
"And then, Mrs Compton?" Hemmings spoke in the hushed whisper of one who knew exactly what then.
"This piece o' garbage up's off the dirt in the street," Mrs Compton had the whole drama at her fingertips, having been an astonished spectator. "fumbles in one o' the pockets o' the ragged longcoat he was wrapped in, I won't call it dressed; pulls out a short pistol, and shoots John in the left shoulder, dam'me. Then scuttles off at a rate o' knots in'ta the dark never t'be seen agin; till now, that is."
The audience, enraptured by this revelation, shuffled on their benches in glee, almost setting up a round of applause, before they realised where they were. Hemmings was delighted.
"And that, Your Honour, is why we sit here today; to charge, and condemn, the prisoner Charles Blueskin Barnes with cold murder." Hemmings stood straight, immense, and full of authority. "The victim, John Crawford, having succumbed to an infection o' the suppurating flesh of his shoulder wound four days after the crime, Your Honour."
The audience was overjoyed with the drama of the occasion, several standing to applaud Hemmings' skill openly; while others settled for leaving their benches to clap each other on the back as if they personally had taken some hand in the affair. The noise and confusion was suddenly immense in the relatively small packed room.
"Now?" Sandy stood, flinging open her longcoat to reveal her wide leather belt stuffed with the no less than three pistols of varying calibre she had earlier owned to.
"Now'll do nicely, dear, go to it." Joanna strode forward herself, long-barreled pistol in hand, elbowing her way through the milling citizens.
The drama surrounding Blueskin Barnes, far from closing, was just about to begin.
A small space, the size of the Public Room of the Cask and Peg Inn, when filled with the smoke of six or more large pistols discharged all at once, is instantly wrapped in a fog of gunpowder smoke fit to equal a London Particular in every respect—thick as pea soup, acrid on the throat, and impossible to see through for more than a yard. Such being the case when Sandy, Joanna, and at least three more of her secretly placed crew, opened up with their firearms.
The effect on the assembled spectators of the trial, packed together like mackerel in a barrel, was also easily surmised. Blind panic ensuing, no-one wanting to have a lead ball penetrate their persons, even if simply by sheer bad luck. There was a concerted movement towards the door; but this being found difficult of access because of the pushing crowd, many others took the intelligent course of breaking several windows and climbing to safety into the street that way. Those left flailing around in the foggy room simply getting in each other's way to no purpose. This all suiting Joanna's plan perfectly.
Judge Andrewes having been swiftly secreted away by his vassals; Fflynne having exited the door in the first wave of escapees; and Hemmings having dived head-first through an open window like a good 'un, the coast to Blueskin was clear, except for the few militia-men acting as guards. The trouble with these being that, in the interests of a pure formality, they were armed only with long six-foot pikes and small pocket pistols. One of these hoving into view in front of Joanna as she headed for the far end of the room she raised her pistol and put a ball through his left thigh as neat as a pin-cushion, stepping neatly over him on her way past.
Sandy, released from the tedium of listening to the trial, swept in amongst the throng like a white shark amongst a shoal of porpoises. Knocking a passing man on the head with the butt of one of her pistols, simply from the sheer joy of life, she carried on, a wide grin showing her enjoyment of the whole concern. Next along another militia-man confronted her. He, raising his short pistol, showing hardly more than a four-inch barrel and quarter-ounce ball, found himself staring down the barrel of Sandy's best ten-inch, two-ounce ball, Mellings horse-pistol. She, feeling merciful, not a usual state with her by any means, lowered her barrel to shoot him a glancing blow in the right calf. The ball however, in passing through the flesh, leaving a wound large enough for the unfortunate victim to fall to the ground screaming in agony; Sandy skipping over the supine casualty with a light heart.
Blueskin Barnes,—knowing he was between a high cliff and the deep blue sea— had meanwhile reacted as most others in similar circumstances would have done; he sat transfixed on his bench, frozen momentarily in fear and indecision. This being his downfall as, seconds later, Joanna, Scourge of the Caribbean Sea and Spanish Main, rolled up before his terrified eyes—he and she not being, at the moment, on what might politely be called speaking terms. She wasted no time in dragging him to his feet, with a strong hand on his collar.
"Ya pusey-livered scum, follow me, an' be bloody quick about it." She turned for the far door, now relatively clear of escaping citizens. "An' if ye tries t'escape, Sandy here'll blow yer balls clean off—won't ye, my pretty?"
Sandy, arriving as her lover spoke, nodded her agreement with this pleasant possibility, grinning evilly at Blueskin with no iota of love or happiness.
"One wrong move, Blueskin, an' ye'll be singin' in a very high voice in the choir from now on, mark my words."
Joanna's plan, accompanied by the seven crew-men who accompanied her and Sandy, was to push through the crowd, make their escape into the street, there to climb into a closed carriage waiting this purpose. Then to achieve a quick run to the harbour where her longboat would be ready to take them to her pirate barque the Amazon and safety.
To accomplish this she had set most of the rest of her crew at several points throughout the town, to cause upheaval and consternation amongst the citizenry; thus holding up any military pursuit in their wake. Back at the harbour Joanna and Sandy, with their accompanying crew-men, would jump on one of two cutters waiting there, and make their own way out into the bay where the Amazon was safely anchored; it preparing to show as fair a pair of heels to the Kingston authorities as could be wished: the rest of the pirates eventually taking the remaining cutter for the same purpose.
But all this was in the future; presently there were other problems facing Joanna and Sandy.
" 'ere, wha'cher up to?" Blueskin finding his voice again, as they neared the door. "I never asked ter be rescued, did I?"
"So, ye'll be happy fer us t'bid ye a fond farewell, then, an' merely turn up t'cheer at yer bloody hangin' later t'day, I expects?" Sandy could be overwhelmingly sardonic, when she tried really hard.
"Well, I didn't say as I wasn't happy about it." Blueskin sneered, his usual method of converse, even with those he called his friends. "Only, I could wish it jest weren't by you two trol—ladies."
"I bet." Joanna had now reached the door, their passage made clear by the simple act of her knocking an intruding innocent citizen on the head with her pistol barrel. "Here, step over the oaf. Right, this way."
"God, fresh air at last, Jo." Sandy paused to take a deep breath.
"Yeah, but time's awastin', let's get the hell out'ta here." Joanna glanced at their prisoner-companion. "You, Blueskin, stick with us, or ye'll regret it."
"Oh, that's nice, seein' what a deal o' trouble we've gone to t'see yer sittin' happily back at our breakfast-table on the Amazon, dear." Sandy was out of temper again; pausing to slap the recalcitrant scumbag's left cheek with her open gloved palm, disregardful of the ingrained dirt visible on her target. "And that'll be only the start o' things, if ye really wants ter rile me, ye b-st-rd."
"Come on, fer God's sake." Joanna was beginning to think things were becoming too free and easy.
"Coming, lover, on yer heels, as ever. Lead the way." Sandy gently gripped Joanna's shoulder with one hand. "And remember, Blueskin, watch it, or I'll have yer hide off in a trice, dam' yer. Right, lover, carry on. Which way? This way? Right, well, let's get on with it, then."
The plan however, for what it had ever been worth, began to break down and take its own course from this point: the four-wheeled closed carriage Joanna had fondly been placing all her hopes of a fast efficient escape on simply not being anywhere in sight.
"Where the f-ck is Connors, an' the bloody carriage?" Joanna took a glance both ways along the street, but nothing resembling her chosen mode of transport was in sight. "F-ck it."
Those shaken citizens, late audience members of the abandoned trial, were now in the street milling around as such groups do, with no set purpose in hand. Some gathered in various sized assemblies to discuss the drama; others wandered about the dirt street at a loss to know what to do, go home or stay to enjoy whatever else might turn up. Others however, of a more stoical if not actually braver, temper had already turned to discussing who was responsible, and whether a single hanging that afternoon might not very well be turned into a gala event. Joanna could already see this primal outlook forming in the eyes of several men who stared at her little trio from a safe distance.
"Come on, let's get t'hell out'ta here; people are lookin' at us, an' not in a friendly way. Follow me."
As they turned a corner, leaving the site of the Cask and Peg behind, they came on another problem; whatever may have happened to her carriage her other crewmen at the appointed hour, 11.30am, had put into operation all the additional facets of her plan to bring the town to a standstill. Stolen carriages had been trailed across several street junctions and pushed together in such a manner they obstructed the traffic; at one or two strategic places single houses had actually been set on fire, to cause consternation in the populace and give them something other to think about than escaping pirates; pirates being past masters at this sort of thing, they dearly loving a burning building. Elsewhere small groups of pirates, shouting and screaming in a terrifying manner had roiled along many streets, assaulting the passing citizenry, cap and tail; annoying women with lewd comments and actions of an altogether impolite nature, while the men were simply given gentle love-taps on the heads and bodies by the pirates' cudgels. All in all these marauding rogues were having themselves the very devil of a good time.
The end result, at the moment, being that waves of distressed and terrified citizens, believing that at the very least the actual End of the World was nigh, were jostling along any escape route they could find, creating horrendous mobs it was almost impossible to thread a way through. Such was now the case in the street Joanna led her two companions into. Packed from stem to stern, one end to the other, with a mass of humanity standing shoulder to shoulder, all in that state of nervous anxiety bordering on absolute terror frequently observed in massed crowds on the verge of complete mayhem.
"Jeesus, what've we gotten ourselves into?" Sandy moved closer to her partner, scared of being parted from her in the heaving throng. "Which way, now?"
"This way. Blueskin, follow us; if ye don't, remember there's still time yet fer ye t'be hanged out'ta hand by these friendly town's-people."
Pushing their way forward Joanna gratefully noticed a small narrow alley leading, apparently, in the direction of the harbour. No-one else seeming to be using it as an escape route she made an instant decision.
"Down here, it's goin' our way, I think."
The alley was just wide enough for two people to run along shoulder to shoulder. Sandy and Joanna chose this course, which necessarily left Blueskin trailing at their coat-tails. Joanna being aware of this unsatisfactory situation, glancing back as they ran.
"Keep up, Blueskin. Remember, there's a hanging-party awaiting ye back there; an' if ye gives us any trouble we'll shoot ye down like the yellow cur ye are."
"Why in f-ck'd ye rescue me, then?" Blueskin, not used to such exercise, was already gasping like a cod on a marble counter. "Ye could'a jest as well let me be."
"An' seen a darlin' youth like you dancin' on the end of a rope fer the delectation of Kingston?" Sandy sneered, with intent. "Couldn't let that happen t'a member o' the Brotherhood, could we?"
"F-ck the bloody Brotherhood."
"Oh dear, that's not nice." Sandy paused in her steady jog, turned in an instant in the narrow confines of the alley, and delivered a sharp kick to Blueskin's left shin; her boot connecting to the bone with an audible thump. "There, how d'ye feel now, ye b-st-rd."
Blueskin felt like crouching and screaming in agony, he proceeding to do both, mostly the screaming part; the blow, if not actually breaking his shin, at least having caused significant discomfort and pain.
Joanna had skidded to a halt some yards further along the alley and turned to observe this condign punishment carried out so efficiently by her better half; but all the same, time's money, and things were going to the devil in a fast hand-cart.
"Jeesus Chr-st, what in hell'r ye up to, madam?" Joanna raised her arms in the air, found the available space inadequate to show her feelings properly, and lowered them in disgust. "Get yerself back here, lady, pronto. God, can't I take ye anywhere, these days?"
"Only havin' a little mild disagreement with Blueskin here, lover." Sandy smiling easily, being wholly unrepentant of her actions. "He havin' one view o'the world, an' I havin' another."
"Yeah well, you—Jeesus, lookout."
Sandy whirled in a flash, her reactions being, as always, quicker than a striking cobra's. What she saw was Blueskin, still crouching low, hauling a medium sized pistol out from the dark recesses of the battered filthy longcoat he affected; his intentions, judging from the evil snarl on his twisted features, being all too clear. But he had acted without fully realising who he was up against.
Joanna stood tall, facing her opponent, Sandy crouching now herself, head around the level of Joanna's waist-belt. Both women, as from years of strict practice, hauling their own pistols from their belts so quickly their hands seemed merely to flicker; then they were fully armed, pointing two pistols each at their assailant.
Before Blueskin, who could hardly yet be supposed to have wholly grasped what was going forward, had managed to bring his single pistol to the level—he still prevaricating as to which snarling Valkyrie to use his single shot on—the ladies commenced to lay down their combined broadside. The narrow alley instantly filled with harsh-tasting, thick white clouds of gunpowder smoke; there were sundry crashes and thumps, as well as the screech and whine of at least one ricocheting ball; then all was silence, as the smoke slowly cleared.
"God, where the f-ck'd he get that cannon?"
"During the melee as we left the Court-room, I bet." Joana nodded, sure of her surmise. "God, what a mess."
The air clearing, the women could see the results of their efforts. That which had been, till a few seconds ago, Blueskin Barnes now lay in a heap in the alley. His shirt, supposedly white, was now uniformly red and glistening; his limbs flung all ways; most of what had been the left side of his face and head entirely missing: Blueskin, as the ladies contemplated the results of their defensive actions, clearly being entirely deceased.
"Well, strike him off the crew muster, Jo."
"F-ck it." Joanna heaved a deep sigh, as she set to re-loading before replacing her pistols in her belt. "Get t'reloading yer pieces, lady, the war ain't won yet."
Coming out of the alley's far exit the women were relieved to see they were almost on the edge of the harbour. Though even here, as they approached the docks and wharves, the actions of other of the prowling Amazon's crew were all too sharply in evidence. On one side of the harbour a brig was strongly afire from stem to stern, flames rising high above its mastheads. Across on the other side of the wide harbour a barque was enveloped in thick white smoke as she also took fire. Almost in the centre of the harbour a massive three-decker cargo ship, possibly an old East Indiaman, lay wallowing at an angle; sunk to its port scuttles, masts steeply inclined. Across the whole harbour small cutters could seen racing about as their crews tried to escape the danger areas, whilst seeking for protection from they knew not what evil.
"Well, this's encouraging, an' no mistake." Sandy taking the drama in her stride. "Looks like quartermaster Thomson's really taken yer instructions to heart, Jo."
"Seems so, yeah." Joanna glanced round, taking in the details of the shambles which was now the harbour-side. "Pretty good, I must say. Right, over here; there's our cutter, no-one's taken any note of it yet, tied up at this wharf, God be thanked."
Back aboard Joanna's pirate barque the Amazon later that afternoon, bows pointed north-by-northwest, sails spread up to the royals, and Kingston left far in their rear with no sign of anyone daft enough to follow the fleeing buccaneers, Joanna and Sandy once more stood on the barque's quarter-deck watching the crew working happily, down on the maindeck and aloft on the masts.
"What d'ye mean, it was a partial success, dear?"
"Well, Blueskin got his, I admit." Joanna scratched her chin as she reflected on the day's events. "But, all the same, we let everyone know what happens when they tangle with the Pirate Brotherhood. And we got t'set most o'Kingston, an' sundry ships in the harbour, alight. That's got'ta be in our favour, eh?"
"There's that, darlin', there's very definitely that." Sandy contemplated the drama of the morning with something like pure glee, she always enjoying a good rampage. "Pity we lost Blueskin though. There were things I was goin' t'do t'him with my knife that would've given me great pleasure."
"Sandy, ye have a nasty streak worse'n some o'those natives in deepest Ameriky y'read about in the news-sheets." Joanna glanced at her partner as they leaned on the bulwark. "Ye're merely spinnin' a tall one, ain't ye, darlin'?"
"If such makes yer happy, lover, if'n such makes yer happy."
"God, what a gal."
Another 'Captain Clayton, Pirate' story will be along shortly.