The Legend of Calico Jack
Copyright © 2015 By Cynus
In 1720, Jack Rackham, also known as Calico Jack, was hanged for piracy. He left behind a son in Cuba, and a pregnant wife, Anne Bonny. The exact fate of Jack's son and wife remains unknown. The 1700's was a chaotic time for the Caribbean, but sometime in the middle of the century the Legend of Calico Jack resurfaced again.
Edward was limping, and his right eye was killing him, but he shuffled his way back to the country home a short way out of Biloxi. Even though the last person he wanted to face was Auntie Anne, there was also nowhere else to go if he wanted help with his injuries. She would take care of him, and then she would give him an earful, and he had to hope that would be the end of it.
Before he even made it to the front porch he could hear her. Edward's cousin Charles had likely already returned with the news. He and Charles had been together in town when a large group of French boys had started watching them. Charles ignored their taunts until one of them decided to get in his way. He knocked the young Frenchman on his arse and continued walking, not even caring to look back. Edward had tried to follow after him, but then one of the boys decided to make it personal.
"Hey, aren't you the son of that whore?" the boy had called. Edward had stiffened as a seething rage began to take over him. He turned to face the boy, his eyes smoldering as his hands had clenched into fists at his sides. The boy seemed only to be egged on by Edward's obvious discomfort, and he sneered menacingly at Edward before adding, "Yeah, I remember you. Your whore of a mother is the one who lit the tavern on fire. Should have done us all a favor and burned herself with it, instead of drinking herself to death two months ago!"
Edward tackled the boy to the ground and socked him in the face as hard as he could, but then he got up and stepped away. He had never been much of a fighter, and he hated violence in general, though when someone insulted his mother he couldn't help himself. But even though he tried to step away, the damage had already been done, and the boy wasn't going to let him get off without recompense for the punch to his face. The French boys surrounded him and beat him, and all Edward could do was try to get away, but even that was beyond his capability until Charles returned and pulled the boys off of him.
The boys ran off once they saw Charles had come back to help him. Where Edward was short and skinny, Charles was tall and thick and knew how to fight as well as any man in Biloxi. He had already made a reputation for himself along the docks for being ruthless in a fight, and other people generally knew to give him a wide berth.
Once the boys were gone, Edward struggled to his feet and turned to face his cousin to thank him, but Charles was already glaring at him. "My mother was right," he said sternly. "You are weak. You can walk home, I'm taking the horses. Maybe the walk will toughen you up a bit."
Edward hadn't bothered to protest and watched his cousin walk away. They had never been close, despite being the same age and raised in the same house. Charles only cared about fighting, gambling, and drinking, three of the four qualities that Auntie Anne cared most about. Edward only cared about the last of the four, and that was education. He was the smart, and he cared about the way the world worked. He had gained that quality from his now deceased mother, whom he had loved dearly. She had wanted Edward to be brave and strong as well, but she had wasted no small amount of the family fortune on making sure that Edward had access to books and tutors who could teach him all about the outside world.
As long as his mother had been alive, Auntie Anne had kept off of his back, but everything had changed once Mary drank herself to death. Anne had barely been able to look at him, and now he was considered a disappointment in her eyes. Which was why it was no surprise when she came storming out of the front door of their country home, her eyes wild and her face contorted in an angry frown.
"What is this I hear about you picking a fight with five boys?" Anne said as she descended the steps from the porch to the path in front of it, placing her hands on her hips as she stared at Edward. Her red hair had streaks of grey running through it, seeming as smoke to the fiery color.
Edward winced as her eyes met his and he raised his hands defensively. "I know, I shouldn't have picked a fight with all of them."
"You're damn right," Anne replied. "You should have made sure that you were fighting on a level you could win. All this time that your mother spent on your education, you'd think that you'd know how to divide and conquer a bit better than that. You should have waited until he came after you. Then you could have thrown him in the dirt like Charles did to his friend, and the others would have been too scared to come after you."
Edward hung his head and muttered, "I'm sorry, Auntie. I'll do better next time."
There was no immediate response, and after a moment Edward risked looking up to meet her eyes only to find her staring at him thoughtfully. She waved him forward after a minute but then grabbed his chin roughly as he moved past her. "Look at that eye. At least you took your beating well. I guess you're not hopeless."
Edward took a step backward to get out of her grip, knowing that it would likely earn him a slap or two. To his surprise there was no physical response at all, and when he looked up to meet Anne's eyes she had the same thoughtful expression as before. "What is it, Auntie?" He asked cautiously.
She smiled in a way that didn't reach her eyes, and then she said something he had never expected to hear. "Pack your things. You're moving out, Edward."
"What?" Edward asked as he took an involuntary step backward. "We're family! How could you do that to me?"
"Calm yourself," Anne chided. "I'm sending you to Nouvelle-Orleans to meet an old acquaintance of mine that owns a tavern there. The tavern's name is Calico Jack's, and you should be able to find it easily enough. I'll send you with a letter of recommendation, and I'm sure he'll take you in."
"You want me to get a job at a tavern, after what mother went through?" Edward asked indignantly. "I can't stand the sight of drink, much less the smell of it, and what am I . . ."
"I don't care what you do," Anne said with a glare. "You should be grateful I'm giving you this opportunity at all, and you'd be wise to follow it. Once you're out of my house you won't be my responsibility anymore. You're not a child, Edward. It's time you learned to take care of yourself. Hopefully Mr. Cunningham will be able to teach you a thing or two about what it means to be a man. God knows that Charles can't seem to do it, and you're hopeless on your own."
Edward shook his head and put his foot down, glaring at Anne. "You're just sick of being reminded about my mother, so you just want to get rid of me."
Anne's eyes burned with rage as she slapped him hard across the face. "Don't you ever call me coward again, boy. Now pack your things. You're leaving in the morning, and if you don't leave willingly then I'll have Charles throw you out. You're not going to be my problem anymore, you little weakling."
She stormed past him and into the house, leaving him to nurse his stinging cheek. He knew that she was serious about her threat to throw him out, but what he didn't know was whether she would be nicer in the morning. When dealing with a woman like his Auntie, it was best to assume the worst.
Nouvelle-Orleans was the new capital of French Louisiana, though it was no more respectable than any of the other towns in the territory. Despite his auntie's threat to send him out in the morning it had taken the better part of three days to find passage on a ship that would take him to the city. In Edward's opinion that was for the better, as it gave time for his wounds to heal and make him look less ragged.
He hadn't spoken to the crew or passengers of the ship except when it had been absolutely necessary. Anne's actions had put him in a foul mood that he wasn't sure would ever clear his system, but he did know that it was wise to follow her counsel and seek out Jack Cunningham. He hadn't been educated in a trade like most of the men his age had been, and had always lived off of the riches that his mother and auntie had inherited. He had done chores around the house in Biloxi, but he was a stranger to the idea of looking for work elsewhere than at home, an oddity he had no idea how to correct.
And so he trudged through the muddy streets on the edge of Nouvelle-Orleans. Many of the streets in the middle of the town were filled with cobblestones, but the newer slums on the west side of the city were still being constructed, and the roads had been largely ignored. The rain that had brought in the morning had made sure that Edward's trek toward the tavern was as miserable as the rest of his life had been.
It didn't take him long to find the place. A kind old carpenter had told him to look for the flag, and when he saw it flapping in the wind he understood why. It was a large black square of cloth, with a white skull and two crossed swords beneath it. When the carpenter had explained the flag Edward hadn't believed it, but now he had to question if his auntie had sent him to meet a pirate.
He shook his head and walked toward the tavern. It was the middle of the day, and the heat of the summer was beginning to settle in. Most people were seeking shade, but Edward was determined to meet Jack Cunningham as soon as possible and get it over with. He walked straight to the front door of the tavern and turned the handle.
The door didn't move at all, and Edward pressed his forehead up against the door in frustration. With a sigh he turned around and pressed his back up against the door before sliding down to sit on the wooden steps. The door was facing away from the sun, and at least it offered him some shade to wait in until Mr. Cunningham arrived.
Before he realized what was happening, Edward was nodding off, and in his drowsy state he barely heard the swish of the broom swinging through the air but did not have time to react before it clubbed him hard to the side and sent him sprawling into the mud. He jumped to his feet quickly, not bothering to retrieve his cap from the mud as he raised his fists in front of him to face the tall man in front of him.
Hardly a man, Edward thought as he studied the tall twenty-something who stood on the wooden steps of the tavern, brandishing the broom with a stern look in his eye in front of the dirty white apron that barely protected the white cotton shirt and hemp pants worn underneath. They were nearly as covered with grime as the apron itself, though the man's hands were immaculately clean. The same level of grooming was applied to his face, which has been cleanly shaven that morning, and his long auburn hair was neatly pulled back and tied with a thin strap of black cloth.
"What do you want, boy?" the man spat in English where Edward had been expecting French. He eyed Edward up and down before snorting derisively. "There's no room for loiterers here. Get off my steps before I call someone to haul you out of here."
Edward dropped his hands to his side and bent to receive his hat with one hand while reaching into his hemp coat with the other to retrieve the envelope his auntie had given him. "This is your Tavern?" Edward asked, repressing his urge to give the man attitude. "You're Jack Cunningham?"
"That's right, boy," the man replied coldly. "What of it?"
"I'm supposed to give you this letter," Edward replied as he handed the envelope toward the man on the steps who made no move to take it. "My Auntie told me to give it to you. Said she knows you. Anne Cormac?"
Jack's eyes narrowed suspiciously as he took the envelope and opened it, awkwardly keeping one hand on the broom as he fumbled with the letter to unfold it and read its contents. Edward had no idea what the letter said, as his Auntie had merely told him to deliver the letter and then hope that Jack's reaction was favorable. As Jack's eyes scanned the letter, however, his eyes initially narrowed even further before they suddenly widened into complete shock. His hand had developed a slight tremble as he pulled the letter away from his face and stared off into the distance.
"Excuse me," Edward said after clearing his throat. "I was told that after you read the letter I should ask you for a job."
Without immediately answering, Jack looked into Edward's eyes and simply stared awkwardly, a small smile pulling on the left side of his mouth, dimpling his cheek. His blue eyes began to sparkle with amusement before he nodded slowly and stepped to the side, pushing open the wooden door to the tavern with one hand while waving Edward forward with the hand that held the broom. "Come inside and sit for a moment. We'll discuss employment in a moment. After what I just read, I'm afraid I need a bit of ale."
Edward nodded and stepped forward cautiously, moving around Jack and into the dimly lit tavern. Whatever anger Jack had held toward him before was apparently gone, and Edward was pleased enough with that. He had always been able to let go of anger easily, though his Auntie Anne had always claimed that it made him weak. Life had been much simpler when his mother, Mary, had been alive.
"Have a seat up at the bar," Jack said as he let the door close behind them. "I apologize about knocking you into the mud. There are all sorts of street kids who hang around here, and it's bad for business. I hope you'll understand that I just mistook you for one of those."
Edward smirked in response as he leaned against the bar rather than sit in any of the tall wooden stools in front of it. He turned to face Jack and shook his head, "I understand, and I'd be happy if we could just put it behind us. But let's get one thing straight, I'm hardly a kid. I may be only twenty, but you're not much older than me. I can tell."
Jack shrugged and walked to the other side of the bar where he retrieved a bottle of whisky and set it down on the bar, before reaching beneath to grab two shot glasses. The first one he placed in front of himself and the last one he set in front of Edward. "You're right. I've only got a couple of years on you, but you can't blame me for the impression you gave me. You're skinny and short, and the way you hold yourself tells me that you aren't used to dealing with people in a position of authority."
Edward shifted uncomfortably and caught the knowing smirk on Jack's face before he managed to stop squirming. "Well, are you willing to give me a job or not?"
"I like to drink before I make a business deal of any sort," Jack said with a grin as he poured from the bottle into the glass in front of him. "So, if you'll join me in a shot then I'll . . ."
"No," Edward said, shaking his head. "I won't drink."
Jack's smile fell as his eyes clouded over. "What do you mean, you won't drink? How are we supposed to conduct business? I won't deal with a man who won't drink with me."
"Then sorry for wasting your time," Edward said with a bow of his head. "After what the drink did to my mother, I won't touch the stuff. If that's a requirement for the job then I'll live on the streets before I work for you."
He made it as far as the door before Jack called out to him. "Stop. I can see you're a man of conviction. I can respect that. I could use a new stock boy. I received a shipment not long before you came by, and I need someone to unload it while I take care of some other business. You get that done then you can have the extra room upstairs. There's a cot in there that I let my patrons use sometimes when they're too drunk to make it home."
Edward smiled as he turned back to face Jack. "You've got a deal."
"You must be the new stock boy." Edward straightened his back and turned to face the girl who had addressed him. She was younger than him but not by much, and her long brown hair hung in curls that framed her youthful face. Her white blouse was cut low, a scandalous affair were she anywhere else in the world but a lawless tavern in the Caribbean, but considering she was in Nouvelle-Orleans she was in reality quite modest for a serving woman.
"Hello, miss," Edward said with a polite tip of his hat. "My name is Edward. Edward Read. Jack just hired me this afternoon, and I'm still getting the hang of things."
She eyed him up and down before putting her hands on her hips in a way that seemed to draw attention to her ample bosom. Edward kept his eyes locked on her face and she noticed immediately, a small smile creeping across her features as she nodded slightly. "I'm Alice, and I'm Jack's main serving girl. Sarah and Marie work sometimes if they're not out getting fresh with the sailors, but that's not the kind of girl I am. You understand, don't you Edward?"
"Certainly, Miss Alice," Edward replied with another tip of his hat. "I wouldn't dream of starting anything. It's not the kind of man I am. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Alice, but I've got work to do. Jack said to have the whole shipment put away and the stockroom organized before the night started, and I still have a few more crates . . ."
"Forget about those," Jack said from the doorway. Edward and Alice turned toward him in surprise as he walked into the room and eyed the few remaining crates on the wooden floor. "You can move those later. They'll be fine for a few hours."
"Then what do you want me to do instead?" Edward asked, meeting Jack's eyes.
"He was about to tell you if you'd just be patient," Alice said with a snicker. "My, keep being so aggressive and you'll be dead in a month from some sailor that doesn't like how you spoke to him. This isn't some nice town you've found yourself in, Edward. You're in Nouvelle-Orleans, where ruffians and scoundrels abound."
"All I asked was a simple question," Edward protested.
"And you'll get a simple answer," Jack replied, gruffly. "Come."
Edward sighed and followed Jack as he led the way back to the main room of the tavern. As soon as they arrived Jack took a sharp turn and retrieved the same broom he had struck Edward with earlier from its place beside the bar. He handed the broom to Edward who took it quickly and raised a questioning eyebrow at Jack.
"You want me to sweep instead of putting boxes away?" Edward asked.
"No, I want you to go stand in the corner and look like you're working when the sailors come in," Jack said as he pointed across the room to a spot of shadows that was furthest away from the oil lamps that lit the space. "I need to make sure that Alice protected, and my bouncer is going to be late tonight. That means it's just you and me, Edward. Make sure none of the patrons get any fresh ideas. All of the regulars know the kind of place I run here, but some of the sailors might be new and won't have learned how we handle unwanted attention here at Calico Jack's."
Edward glanced at Alice for a moment before turning back to Jack. "You mean to tell me that the attention Alice gets from wearing such a thing is unwanted?"
"You've got a lot to learn about the world, Edward," Jack replied through thinning lips. "Some women want to be looked at, doesn't mean they want to be touched. Alice can usually handle herself, but if someone gets a little rough then you've got to break it up."
With a sigh Edward nodded and walked to where he was told to go. He considered pulling up a chair but as soon as his eyes fell upon it he could feel Jack's gaze boring into his back. Glancing over his shoulder he saw that it was not just Jack that was staring at him but Alice, though the young woman's expression was one of amusement while Jack's was devoid of that emotion altogether.
Edward elected to stand, and sweep up what dirt and dust had collected in the corner while he was there. He didn't have to wait long for a break in the monotony, and watched as four men walked into the tavern. They were in from the Caribbean, and they smelled as if they hadn't washed in weeks. The stench crinkled Edward's nose but it was bearable; he wasn't sure he could say the same about the attitude they carried with them. The first sailor through the door was a large man with a long and scruffy black beard, and from the moment he laid eyes on Alice, Edward was sure there was going to be trouble.
Alice seemed to sense the same thing, from the way the man led his fellows to a table in the back where Alice was currently standing it was easy to tell that he was trying to get close to her. As soon as her back turned he was licking his lips, and his fellows jostled each other as they made crude remarks about Alice and her bosom. They sat and ordered their first round of drinks, polite at first, but it wasn't long before they made it known what they were really after.
"Hey there, missy," the black-bearded sailor said in French but with a strong Spanish accent. He reached up and touched Alice's arm to get her attention, but then left it there longer than he needed to. Alice shook him off and turned toward him, smiling despite his action.
"What can I do for you, mister?" Alice asked.
"Another pint, miss, and why don't you come back and sit for a little while," the black-bearded sailor replied with a throaty laugh. The other men at his table joined in as Alice sighed. Edward took a step toward the table, the broom ready in his hand should he need to hit someone to teach them a lesson, but Alice looked up and met his eyes, winking and shaking her head slightly before she walked back toward the bar to get the sailor his pint.
Edward returned to his spot in the corner as Alice came back to the table with a pint of ale. The sailor took the pint and set it down, but as soon as Alice's back was turned he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her into his lap. Alice squealed and tried to pry his arms off of her, but the man held her fast.
Alice's squeal attracted Jack's attention at the bar, but Edward was closer, and he started toward them with the broom held tight in his hand. The other sailors at the table saw him coming, and two rose to their feet while the other adjusted his seat to give him a better view of the action. Edward almost stopped his advance, but he saw that Alice was getting more uncomfortable with each passing second, and he remembered Jack's earlier admonition.
"Let her go," Edward said with an involuntary tremble in his voice. The sailors standing at the table shared a look before turning sneers on him, while the black-bearded sailor didn't seem to notice him at all. Edward cleared his throat and said more firmly, "Let her go. We don't tolerate you hassling our girls."
The black-bearded sailor turned to face him, his face flushed with the alcohol he had already imbibed. Alice used the distraction to struggle out of his arms and step away, while Edward faced off with him, holding the broom in shaky hands. "You got a problem, boy?" The sailor hissed with slurred speech. "My coin's good, and the girl's worth it. I'll pay whatever you want for the time alone with 'er."
"You're not going to touch her again," Edward said as he caught Jack moving toward them out of the corner of his eye. He saw the glint of metal in Jack's hands before he returned his attention to the sailor. "You touch her again, we toss you out on the street. Do you hear me?"
"What are you going to do about it?" one of the standing sailors asked as he leaned across the table with a menacing grin. "We'll take her whether you like it or not."
Edward raised the broom and prepared to fight all three if he had to when Jack stepped around Alice protectively and revealed the saber in his hands. "Obey the rules or get out of my tavern," Jack said with an angry glare. "You try to press the point and you taste my sword. It's the same sword that belonged to Calico Jack, and trust that I know how to use it just as well as he ever did."
The two standing soldiers eyed Jack dangerously and resumed their seats, but the black-bearded sailor wasn't done. With a snarl he jumped out of his chair and dove at Jack's feet, attempting to tackle him to the ground. Jack whipped across with the saber, cutting the sailor just behind the ear before taking a swift step back and out of the sailor's range. He pressed the blade against the sailor's neck and said with finality, "I warned you. Now if your friends don't get you out of my sight as soon as they can, I can promise you that there will be a great deal more humiliation and pain that I serve out to you. I suggest you take my offer to leave right now."
The sailors moved to help their downed friend without another word, and all four were out of the tavern in less than a minute. Jack sheathed the saber at his side and turned to the room, clapping his hands and grinning, "Now that we've got the ruffians out of the way, drink up and be merry. Don't let them ruin your fun." A loud chatter quickly returned to the room as the patrons forgot about the occurrence with the four sailors. Edward was surprised at how everything returned to normal in an almost fluid manner, and new patrons arrived shortly to take the chairs that had been vacated by the sailors.
As the night began to quiet down, the tables slowly began to empty until there were only a few left. After dropping a pair of drinks off at a table near Edward's corner, Alice came toward him and leaned in to give him a kiss on the cheek. "Thanks for helping me back there, Edward," she said with a warm smile. "Jack could have done it on his own, but I'm glad he had someone to back him up."
"It's what Jack asked me to do," Edward said with a shrug. "But I'm glad you came away from it safely."
"Jack takes care of his own," Alice said with a nod. "But if things ever get really out of hand, there's a musket in the storeroom. You probably saw it in there when you were putting things away. I don't know that you'll ever need it, but if you do . . ."
"It's good to know where your weapons are," Edward finished for her. "I appreciate it, though I wouldn't know the first thing about firing a musket."
"A strapping young man like you?" Alice asked in surprise. "Well, someday you'll have to learn then. Maybe I'll teach you."
"I've never cared much for violence," Edward replied.
"Could have fooled me tonight," Alice said with a raised eyebrow. "Why did you stand up for me then?"
"When it's the right thing to do, you have to do it. Doesn't matter if it's something you don't want to do," Edward said with a shrug. "That's all there is to it."
"You're more like Jack than I would have thought," Alice said with a soft smile. "You keep thinking like that, Edward. The world could use more like you. It's 1740, and the world is changing. People like you can make sure it changes for the better."
It was a week after the incident with the sailors, and they had gone through a similar process every night. Edward had to wonder how they managed to get regular customers at all with the amount that they threw out of the place, but Jack seemed to have a winning personality with anyone who was willing to play by the rules.
But there was one thing that bothered Edward about Jack that he wasn't sure he could let go. Every night, when the last patron was gone, Jack would grab a bottle or two and drink himself into oblivion while Edward and whichever girl was serving that night would clean the bar and the common room. Edward would watch Jack out of the corner of his eye, and he could see the sadness in him; an overwhelming bitterness that Jack was obviously trying to mask with as much alcohol as he could take.
On one such night, Edward had had enough, and he paused in his cleaning of the bar and stared at Jack with a smile he hoped would be disarming. "You drink an awful lot, Jack. Why . . ."
"What business is it of yours how much I drink, Edward?" Jack snapped, setting the bottle down hard on the table as he glared at Edward. "You don't think a man has a right to a bottle every once in a while?"
Edward shrugged and didn't shrink from the anger in the glare. Instead he stood tall and walked toward Jack and snatched the bottle from the table. Jack tried to grab it first but Edward was quicker and he held the bottle up and showed it to Jack. "I think it's a crime for a man to be so afraid of facing himself that he hides behind liquor. Every once in a while is one thing, but you sometimes knock back three of these every night. It's a wonder you still have any to sell to your customers."
"Give me that, Edward," Jack growled. "Do it, or you're back on the streets and heading back to your Auntie."
Edward shrugged and set the bottle down again. "Suit yourself. I'm just trying to help you, Jack. Whatever happened in your past that made you so bitter that you want to forget, I hope someday you turn around and face it instead of running from it."
"What do you know, boy?" Jack laughed before taking a swig from the bottle. "You've hardly seen the world. What do you know of it?"
"I know that a man who speaks three languages and could afford to open a business in Nouvelle-Orleans at your young age should be on the path to success," Edward said before turning around and returning to the bar, picking up the rag he had left behind as he returned to polishing the surface. He paused in his cleaning and turned to stare back at Jack as he added quietly, "Instead you waste away behind your fear."
Jack stared back at Edward without responding before he took another swig and set the bottle down lightly in front of him. Edward sighed and turned away, moving further down the bar to clean another section. He heard the creak of a wooden chair and turned around again only to see Jack disappearing up the stairs.
With another sigh Edward returned to his cleaning duties, going from the bar to the tables. In his short time in Nouvelle-Orleans he had learned how unusual Jack's establishment was. It was a city primarily inhabited by lowlifes and scoundrels, and most didn't care if the place they got their drink was clean or not, provided the taps kept flowing. The serving girls that Jack employed were not the typical floozies that other taverns hired, and that made their service a cut above the other taverns in the city.
For whatever reason, Jack tried to run a professional establishment in the middle of a city that thrived on lawlessness, but then almost seemed lawless himself. Edward found the contradiction more than intriguing, it was infatuating. Despite all his faults, Edward knew one painful truth; he was falling for Jack, and he was falling for him hard. It would only be a matter of time before his attraction got the better of him and he gave away his feelings for Jack, and then he was sure he'd be out on the street.
His eyes returned to the empty table, gazing longingly over the seat that Jack had just vacated, wishing that he was still there, even if he were drinking himself into oblivion. Then Edward's eyes came to rest on the bottle that Jack had left behind. It was still half-full. Edward's eyes widened as he looked at the stairs that Jack had ascended moments before, knowing that Jack never came down after turning in for the night. He never left a bottle unfinished either.
Edward smiled as he picked up the bottle and returned it to the bar. He stared at it for just a moment before putting the bottle to his lips and taking a swig of the Caribbean Rum. As he tipped the bottle back he thought of Jack, and how drinking from the same bottle was likely the closest he'd ever come from tasting Jack's sweet lips on his own. It was reason enough to start drinking if it meant he'd become closer to understanding the man who had captured his heart.
Edward had barely spoken to Jack at all since confronting him about his drinking, and he was starting to worry that he had ruined any chance of developing a true friendship between them. Every night he'd watch as Jack took his bottles to his room instead of drinking them in the common room, and he wondered if Jack would ever decide to stop running from his past. The thoughts kept him tossing and turning at night as much as the humidity did, but he was totally unprepared for the sudden knock on his door. He had stripped out of his clothing in the face of the humid night, and he wasn't in any condition to receive visitors. But he also knew that it was unlikely that someone would come to his room late at night if it wasn't for something incredibly important.
He sighed as he climbed off of his cot and walked toward the door, then hid behind it as he cracked it open to peer around the other side. Jack was standing with his eyes downcast and an open bottle of brandy in his hands. He looked up when Edward cleared his throat and smiled weakly before asking, "Can I come in for a moment?"
Edward nodded and pulled the door open wider while keeping himself behind it. As soon as Jack was through the door, Edward closed it behind him and then moved back toward his bed as Jack went to stand by the window. Since it was only Jack, Edward didn't bother covering up. It was too hot to do so anyway, and if Jack was offended by his nakedness then it was his fault for intruding upon him at this hour.
But Jack also didn't seem to know where to begin with whatever he had come to speak to Edward about, and after a long yawn threatened to drive Edward back into slumber he cleared his throat and brought Jack's eyes swiveling toward him. "Are you going to say anything?" Edward asked, suddenly conscious of Jack's gaze as it traveled downward briefly before returning to his eyes. "Are you drunk again, Jack?"
Jack shook his head and returned to looking out the window, the bottle in his hand held in a white-knuckled grip. "I'm sorry to disturb you. If you'd rather I leave then I will. I was just hoping you'd be able to listen to a problem of mine. I can't seem to get it out of my head, not since you pointed it out to me."
"Why come to me instead of Alice?" Edward asked, running his hand through his black hair and then scratching the back of his head before dropping his hand to his thigh with a loud smack. The sound brought Jack's eyes back to Edward's and Edward shrugged with a soft smile. "I don't mind lending an ear, but I thought you'd seek the company of an old friend rather than your new stock boy. But if I'm really the one you want to talk to . . ."
"If I went to Alice she might think I was being sweet on her," Jack replied with a shrug. "You . . . I'm not as concerned about that, I don't think." He chuckled slightly and lifted the bottle to his lips as if he were about to drink, but then he seemed to notice what was going on, and with a sudden expression of rage he opened the window and poured the bottle out. As soon as it was empty he dropped the bottle to the muddy street below. It hit the side of the tavern as it fell and the sound of it shattering made Edward wince.
"I've never seen you pour out a drink before," Edward said quietly. "So you're not drunk then . . ."
"No," Jack said clearly. "In fact, I'm trying to give it up entirely. You were right when you said I was hiding from something, and using the drink to cloud my mind and make it so it's not so real anymore. I can't keep denying it though."
"Do you want to talk about it specifically, or are you just here for my support?" Edward asked.
"For some reason I can't shake the feeling that you're the only one I can tell," Jack said as he turned toward Edward again. "I haven't told anyone here why I left Cuba, but it's a secret I'm sure will catch up to me someday. If I'm not brave enough to face it now, then I don't know that I'll be brave enough to face it when it comes looking for me."
Jack hesitated as he kept his eyes focused on the moonlit street beneath him. Edward didn't want to pressure him and so remained silent as he waited, but he didn't have to wait for long. Jack shuddered as if he had touched something cold, despite the heat, and then he gripped the window sill as tightly as he had gripped the bottle moments before. "You have to understand, Edward. I don't try to be an evil man."
Edward raised an eyebrow in response and said, "From the moment I met you I was sure that you weren't, well, except for a passing second after you hit me with that broom." He laughed and was pleased when Jack smiled at the sound, though he did not join in.
"After what I tell you, you may rethink that assessment," Jack said solemnly. "Are you a religious man, Edward?"
"No," Edward replied with a laugh. "That wasn't the way mother or auntie raised us. We received an education, and I've certainly seen a bible or two in the past, but they never considered it an important part of our childhood. I've only been inside of one chapel, and that was at the behest of the city council after mother got charged with public intoxication."
"In Cuba it seems that everyone was Catholic. Spain rules there, and where Spain goes, Catholicism follows," Jack said with a touch of bitterness. "The couple who raised me weren't devout, at least not when they first took me in. My father and mother, Jack Rackham and Anne Bonny, were friends of theirs, and they practically abandoned me. The Cunningham's took pity on me and raised me as their own, but I always had a longing for my real parents. The trouble began when I was a youth, and my English parents converted to Catholicism from the Church of England."
"They had received pressure from their Spanish neighbors for years, and I suppose they wanted to become a bit closer to God for other reasons as well," Jack explained with a sigh. "But it wasn't a decision that worked well with me. I worshipped my real father, even though he was dead shortly after my second birthday. I had heard tales from Spanish, French, and English sailors about my father since I could first learn to walk, but when I was ten I met a man who changed it all. My father's brother, who moved to Havana after the sailor's life took his leg. He opted for a safer occupation, and he started a brothel with what money he had."
"And you went to see him?" Edward asked as he leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees and his head in the palm of his hands. As engrossing as the story was, the long work day was still catching up to him, and he was sure that if Jack didn't get to the point soon that he'd find Edward sleeping.
"He sought me out, once he learned that his brother had left behind a child there," Jack replied. "He told me all about his brother, my father. From him I was able to learn the kind of man he really was. He was a man who embraced change, and didn't care one whit what the world thought of him or the things he'd done; a true master of his own destiny, and he sought to give that gift to others as well. His crew was loyal to him for one reason above all others. He treated them with respect and honor, despite being a pirate and treasure-seeker."
"You sound like he's a hero instead of a pirate," Edward said before stifling a yawn. "Didn't he kill a lot of people, too?"
"Of course," Jack said, "But you have to understand that he did it as a means of survival in troubled times. He had to make a world where he'd be free. Would you kill for freedom?" He turned to face Edward and smiled wide. "You owe a lot to that philosophy, you know."
Edward raised his eyebrows and asked, "What are you talking about?"
"You mean you really don't know?" Jack asked in surprise. "Have you never wondered where your mother and aunt's fortune came from?"
"They inherited it from their parents," Edward said with a shrug. "Granddad left no male heirs, and so it went to Anne's husband instead, but he died before Charles was born, just as my father did."
Jack laughed loud enough that it reverberated through the room, and a dog began barking somewhere outside. "You're mother and aunt aren't even related. You share no bloodline with your aunt or cousin at all. Your mother's name was Mary Read, yes?"
"Yes, what of it?"
"She's one of the most notorious pirates that ever sailed the Caribbean, Edward!" Jack said with another roar of laughter. "Your auntie is none other than Anne Bonny, my mother, and the wife of Calico Jack! If you don't believe me, I'll show you the letter that my mother had you give me. It explains the whole thing, even the story of them abandoning me in Cuba."
Edward leaned back on the bed as his body went limp with shock, but his head collided with the wall and he shot forward suddenly in pain, rubbing his scalp. He looked at Jack and shook his head in wide-eyed wonder. "Are you sure? My mother always said that she emigrated from England to Louisiana to escape debt collectors, and that . . . You know, come to think of it, both my mother and Auntie Anne banned us from ever studying pirates, and considering Auntie Anne's personality, I'm not really that surprised. I could see her fighting for treasure, or even just for the joy of fighting."
"Aye, that's what the legends said about her as well," Jack confirmed, nodding. "But they would have never found a place on any crew other than Calico Jack's. He didn't care that they were women, he only cared that they had the souls of pirates, and were just as hungry for freedom as he was."
"So my mother sailed with your father?" Edward asked. When Jack nodded Edward breathed a sigh of relief. "I was afraid that my Auntie was paying you to take me in."
Jack's expression fell and Edward sat up straight. "Wait, you're telling me that she is paying you?"
"She offered, but I've yet to spend any of it," Jack replied quietly. "I've found other uses for you, Edward, so please take no offense. I'm no longer keeping you here out of any debt to your aunt. In God's honest truth I don't owe that woman anything, anyway."
Edward's eyes narrowed as he asked, "So why do you keep me around then?"
"For the same reason that I left Cuba," Jack said bitterly. "Oh hell, Edward. I don't know how to say any of this. Seems that I've got a bit of my upbringing in me, and the Cunningham's always said that a man's not supposed to explain what's in his heart. It makes him soft, and weak."
"My Auntie called me soft and weak from the moment I could talk," Edward replied. "At least you'll be in good company."
Jack laughed and turned to face Edward again as the smile returned to his lips. "All right, Edward. I suppose I'll come clean then. You've earned it, considering you're the one that brought me to face the truth."
Edward nodded and Jack continued, though his smiled faded with each successive word that passed his lips. "I began to visit my uncle regularly, partly because of my need to learn more about my father, but also because I began to fall in love with one of the brothel workers. The more I visited, the more infatuated I became, until we began a relationship in secret. We made love at every opportunity we could find, but we became insatiable with our need for each other. One day we weren't careful enough, and my uncle discovered us while we were in the throes of love."
"That couldn't have been the worst thing that could happen, Jack," Edward replied with a bewildered shake of his head. "Isn't the point of working in a brothel to have sex? Why would your uncle discovering you have been such a terrible thing? Surely whoever the woman was could have at worst been released for giving her services for free."
Jack's eyes fell as he looked at the floor, and though it shocked Edward more than anything he had heard that night, he could not deny the sound of Jack's sob as he fought back his tears. When jack looked up again his eyes were glistening in the moonlight coming in through the window. "You don't understand, Edward. I didn't fall in love with one of my uncle's women, I fell in love with his African slave, a boy named Bundu who cleaned my uncle's floors. When my uncle discovered what we were doing, he pointed the finger at Bundu and accused him of rape. He had him flogged, and then castrated, and then trampled to death in the street by horses. I was forced to watch the whole thing, and even now I can still hear his screams echoing in my mind. My sweet Bundu!" Jack choked back his tears with another sob as he collapsed against the windowsill, his body trembling. Edward rose to his feet as Jack wiped the tears from his eyes and continued with grim determination. "After that, I never visited my uncle again. The memory was too painful, but several years later my uncle died, and as I was his only kin I inherited the brothel and all of his belongings. I sold the brothel and freed his slaves without ever returning to the place, and I had a few of my father's personal items sent to me. The flag that flies over this tavern is the same that flew over his ship, and the sabre I keep behind the bar belonged to him as well. I brought them with me here, to start a new life, away from the pain and the religious persecution I was sure to suffer if I ever told anyone the truth."
Edward had been slowly moving forward as Jack continued speaking until he stood behind Jack, and then waited for him to finish. As the last word left Jack's mouth, Edward laid a hand on Jack's shoulder and pulled Jack toward him. Jack looked Edward in the eye with a touch of fear, and a small shred of hope. Both emotions faded into surprise as Edward leaned forward, pressing his lips against Jack's gently and soothingly, letting the kiss linger for several seconds before pulling away and reaching up to stroke Jack's cheek, wiping away his tears.
"I've wanted to do that since the moment I met you, but I didn't think I'd ever get the chance. We're not so different, you and I, as I thought we were," Edward said quietly as he stared into Jack's eyes. "You want to live your life free from everything, like your father did before you. I don't have much to offer in this life, but I can tell you that here you will always be free. With me, you will never have to wonder if I'll betray your secrets or belittle the life you've given me. I will always be here for you, Jack, if you'll have me."
Jack's lips pressed against Edward's and cut off whatever words would follow. Edward didn't mind, for after the hours they spent making love to each other, he knew he'd never doubt how much Jack wanted him. Nothing would ever separate them from the freedom they found in each other's arms.
It was a late summer's day like any other when everything seemed to come to a head. Edward was busy polishing glasses in anticipation of a large ship arriving from further south, and Jack was busy catching up on his bookkeeping, with a large leather-bound ledger spread out across the bar. Alice was sweeping in the storeroom and whistling a tune she had learned earlier in the week. The sun was approaching the western horizon, and soon the tavern would be filled with patrons, both regular and new.
As long as Alice was out of the room, Edward took whatever chance he could to sneak a kiss from Jack, and was happy to find Jack more than willing to return the favor. They bumped and jostled each other for no reason other than to make contact, and it quickly became a game. Every night since their talk in Edward's bedroom several weeks before they had slept together rather than apart, and their feelings for each other had grown into something beautiful that neither could deny.
But when a knock came at the closed door of the tavern, Edward felt a sudden pang of dread in his heart. When Jack went to open the door it was as if all the restraints of Edward's childhood suddenly returned to him as his chest began to feel tight and his heart began to race. Jack opened the door and Anne was standing on the other side, Edward's cousin Charles standing behind her with a pistol at his hip.
"Jack Cunningham?" Anne asked as she met Jack's eyes. Despite his fear of her, Edward couldn't help but admire her courage. It was uncustomary for a woman to be as forward toward a man as Anne was to Jack, even if he was her son. "Might we come in?"
"I know who you are," Jack said with a frown, glancing back at Edward. "I suppose you can, if you must. But if you're not here to drink then I'll have to have you out by sunset. I need the tables."
Anne smiled, though it never touched her eyes, and stepped into the common room with Charles following close behind her. "If you know who I am, than I suppose my reputation precedes me. I don't remember giving a physical description in that letter I sent you. Has my nephew been speaking about me?"
Edward gulped and shook his head, but Jack was quick to answer the question on his own. "No, I've done plenty of my own research, mother. Word gets around Cuba better than it does Louisiana, or so it seems. I was surprised that Edward didn't know who his mother and auntie really were. You want to pretend you were never a pirate, be my guest, but you're not going to lie to me in my own tavern."
Anne nodded and conceded the point, but then she turned her attention away from Jack and onto Edward. "It seems that my eldest son has had some time to work on you in one regard, even if it is telling you all about the deeds of my youth. But I'm not concerned that you know. A smart boy like you was bound to find out sooner or later and put the pieces together. The question here isn't about how smart you are, though. I didn't pay Jack to tell you the truth, I paid him to make a man out of you. Are you a man now, Edward?"
Edward glanced at Jack and then back and Anne, he walked around the bar to face her even as Jack stepped away and returned to the bar. Anne watched Edward approach, and he could see the growing disappointment in her eyes until he stood before her and her gaze was filled with outright contempt. "I've learned a lot here, Auntie. But there's more for me to learn, so I'm grateful that you gave me this opportunity to . . ."
The slap of Anne's hand against Edward's cheek sent him sprawling into one of the nearby tables, hard enough to flip the table on its side and send Edward crashing to the floor. He looked up at her in shock as she stood above him, trembling. "You're still as weak as you always were. I can see it in the way you walk and the way you speak. You want to claim that you've learned how to be a man? You can't even get back up and face me!"
"You better watch your tone, bitch," Jack growled from the bar. He had retrieved his saber and brandished it at Anne as he slowly approached and helped Edward to his feet. "You've got no right to come into my tavern and lay a finger on one of my staff."
Anne's eyes widened in shock before she began a steady cackle. Charles stepped to her side and drew his pistol, pointing it at Jack and eyeing the saber with a snarl. "You might want to put your sword away before you get hurt, brother." Charles raised his pistol and pointed it at Jack's face. "Don't think you can threaten our mother and get away with it."
Charles stiffened as Alice put the barrel of a musket against his back. She had sneaked into the room during the commotion and wore an expression of pure concentration. Edward didn't doubt that she knew how to use the musket as well as any man could, and Charles seemed to feel that too from the intensity of her stare as his forehead began to sweat.
"You might want to put that pistol away before you get hurt, brother," Jack said with a sneer. "Don't forget, that your mother came in here and threatened my employee before I ever raised a weapon against her."
With a questioning look at Anne that was met with her nod of assent, Charles slid the pistol back into place at his hip and Jack lowered his sword in response. Alice kept the barrel of her musket pointed at Charles' back, but she took a step back and kept it from touching him. "Now that we're all settled," Jack said with a mirthless grin. "I think it's time we discussed why you're here."
"I came to see if my investment has paid off," Anne replied without hesitation. "It seems to me that it hasn't. Edward hasn't become a man, he's just found other people to fight his battles for him. It's no wonder you couldn't teach him anything. I had hoped that you'd have ended up more like me, but I guess you're more like your father."
"Oh, please tell me what you mean. This is going to be good," Jack said with a dangerous glint in his eyes.
Anne's eyes were filled with an equal amount of fire, and she spoke clearly and fiercely. "Your father was a coward. The day our ship was attacked he couldn't even rise out of bed to defend it. He and all of the other men were drunk on rum and didn't raise a finger to help Mary and me. It was like he gave up and died. I told him then and I'll say it again now, he should have fought like a man so he didn't have to hang like a dog."
"You've got a lot of nerve to call Calico Jack a coward," Jack spat. "He gave you the chance to do what no woman had done before. He let you, and Mary, fight like free men alongside his crew. You want to call him a coward? Fine, but you can't deny what my father gave to you. You can't deny that everything you are is because of him."
"If he had fought, we'd still be out there today," Anne countered. "We would have continued our fight until the seas were ours to command, and the world bowed before us as king and queen of the Caribbean!"
"For some, like you, courage is about being willing to fight and die for what you believe in," Jack said coldly. "For some, courage is in the ability to lead others to be stronger than they ever thought possible. Calico Jack was such a man. Without him, you wouldn't have had a chance to call yourself 'pirate', much less 'queen of the Caribbean'."
"How dare you . . ." Anne began, but Jack cut her off with a stern glare.
"Still others have a different kind of courage," Jack continued, glancing at Edward briefly. "The quiet kind that watches and endures, and then when they understand how they can make a difference they hold nothing back. They throw their whole selves at helping those they care about, and they don't even bat an eye at the risk that they might be rejected. Edward Read is one of these, and you're selling him short when you call him weak and cowardly. He stood up to me at a time I needed to be brought down, and I owe him as much as you owe Calico Jack."
Anne looked from Jack to Edward for a moment and then nodded firmly. "Maybe, but I'm not convinced. I'm taking Edward back with me and . . ."
"No," Edward said as he rose to his feet.
"Excuse me?" Anne asked indignantly.
"No," Edward said again, with finality. "I'm staying here."
"I did not pay good money to have it squandered away on . . ." Anne started, but then Jack reached into the pocket of his apron and withdrew an envelope, the same which had accompanied Edward on his way to Nouvelle-Orleans.
He handed the envelope back to Anne and said with a blank expression, "I haven't taken any of your money. I had a feeling you'd show up eventually, and I planned to give it back to you. I didn't start this business with any help from you, and I don't intend to ever accept your money. The bill of credit you sent me is unredeemed, and you can tear it up if you like. I hired Edward, expecting him to sink or swim on his own merit, and he proved a fine worker. You can't have him."
Anne took the envelope and looked inside before she nodded slowly and patted Charles on the arm. "I think it's time that we go, son. Looks like we're leaving Edward here. Perhaps I was wrong about you, Jack Cunningham," she said as she met her eldest son's eyes. "Maybe there's more of me in you than I thought there was. I won't press this matter any further, but don't start believing that I think you're right about your father or Edward. I only know one kind of courage, but if you want to fight for that, be my guest."
"I don't care one whit about what you think, Anne Bonny," Jack said with a snarl. "You just get out of my tavern and never come back. And take your son with you. I'm Calico Jack's son, but I'll never be yours, and Edward's better off without you."
Anne shrugged and turned away, eyeing Alice up and down before stepping around her to the open door of the tavern with Charles right behind her. Alice closed the door behind them and then turned around to face Jack and Edward with a wide grin on her face. "You never told me that your mother was a famous pirate," she said with a laugh. "No wonder you're always so grumpy."
"That wasn't my mother, just the woman who gave birth to me," Jack said with a small smile. "My mother is destiny, and my father is freedom, and between them I'll make a life that no one can touch, just you wait and see, Alice."
"Of that I have no doubt, Jack," Alice said with a nod. "Now I've got to get back to sweeping if we're going to be ready for tonight." With that she disappeared into the storeroom, leaving Jack and Edward alone.
"Thanks for fighting for me, Jack," Edward said as he put his hand on Jack's arm and gave it a squeeze.
"Thanks for doing the same, Edward," Jack replied with a warm smile. "You've got to fight for what you love."
"Are you saying you love me, Jack?" Edward asked as he leaned into Jack's shoulder.
Jack laughed and wrapped an arm around Edward and pulled him close before leaning down to kiss his lips gently. "I love freedom, and I love destiny, and I'm pretty sure you're both for me. How could I not love you?"