The Slippery Road
April 27, 1691. Something like four a.m.
Freed from the stifling heat of the tavern, Jack stumbles into darkness. Rain smashes down on Port Royal's roofs and palm trees, soaks him in an instant. The streets are empty, the houses dark. Light from the tavern's windows fade quickly as he staggers down toward the docks. He slips more than once on the cobblestoned street, banging his knees and forcing muffled curses.
Pellier had offered to walk with him, but Jack had seen that his friend was really more interested in cards than leaving. And Jack had felt sick from rum and tired of loud company, and he had told Pellier to just go on playing, that if he wanted a nursemaid he'd be sure to hire someone a lot prettier than Pellier.
And Pellier, who wasn't a bad-looking lad for all that, had looked up, shrugged, and gone back to his cards. So now Jack, alone and drunk on darkness, slips and slides his way across Port Royal. Palm tree fronds flop wetly down into the street, narrowly missing him. He has seen a man who got sliced in the face by palm tree leaf -- not pretty. So he looks for cover.
Two streets later, he finds an alley that is covered. Inside, it's as dark as a tomb, but quiet. Jack pisses against the wall and fights the urge to flop down on his stomach and go to sleep. He vows to himself quietly never to drink rum again. Rum is a pirate's drink, and it's not for the likes of a man in Her Majesty's navy. Real British men, he has been informed many a time, drink whiskey, or if they can't get that, then beer. But Jack had been lured by the sticky sweetness of rum.
"Never again," he murmurs to himself, one hand on the wall for balance, swaying. The wind shrieks past the alley and then dies. And in the black stillness, a match scrapes. Jack turns his head slowly as a the light flares. Someone, not three feet from him, is lighting a cheroot.
"Oh, what a pretty boy," says a voice that Jack can only characterize as 'slimy.' It is neither deep nor high, not gravelly and not squeaky. It is the voice of a British sailor: the voice of violence. "Small and black-haired, with such a long white neck. Got lost in the storm, did you, dear?"
The promises in that voice are something to be avoided, and Jack tries. "Is this your alley?" he asks, trying desperately for nonchalance. "If it is, I'll just be on my way." He backs up two steps and then a hand clamps onto his left wrist.
"This is my alley, boy. And you won't be rabbiting out of it either." The cheroot flares once, and smoke blows past Jack's face. "Here's what I want. Your money first. And after the money, you'll take down your breeches and we'll have a nice quiet shag. And then, if you're a really good boy and you talk pretty to me, then I'll let you go." Another hand comes out of the darkness and twines itself unerringly in Jack's hair. The owner of the voice, whoever he is, puts Jack up against the wall with seemingly no effort at all. Jack, tears standing in his eyes from the force of the hair-pulling, scrabbles with his other hand for his knife. Says nothing.
"And if you aren't good," says the man, who looms over him in the dark like a troll come from under a bridge, "I will cut out your eyes and then I will kill you."
The hand at his wrist is still pinning him, but the other has left his hair and is crawling down his belly to his fly. Jack can smell rum-laced breath as the man leans down for a kiss. He hesitates not a moment, but smashes his forehead as hard as he can into the man's face.
He hits with a crunch. The man yelps like a kicked dog and reels backward, taking Jack with him by the wrist. Jack lets himself be pulled, and when the man falls over backward, Jack goes too. The man yowls, gets him in half a bear hug, and tries to choke him. But it's too late. Jack has reached the small knife he keeps in his belt, and he slices at the man's side as the air is slowly squeezed from his body. With another yowl, the man lets go.
"Small, am I?" pants Jack. He feels up the man's body, which is doubled over and scrabbling at itself, and he finds the fat chin, bristling with beard. He tips up the man's chin and feels the force of the whines coming from the fat throat. Blood is streaking down into Jack's eyes, and he closes them. He gets a good hold on his knife and tries very hard not to cut his own fingers as he slices the man's throat.
It is unpleasant, but Jack has done it before. Most of the blood misses him, but he is still spattered in warm copper. The man lets out one gurgle and then two more and then a shudder passes through him and he is still. Jack makes sure all his fingers are still there and then searches quickly through the man's pockets. The storm has died most of the way, though rain still patters on the street. The man has, by touch, five guineas in his pockets.
Jack rips a piece from the man's shirt and ties it around his head. Then he makes his way to his feet. His head hurts abominably and blood is still snaking its way down his face. "Takes more than the likes of you to rape Jack Sparrow," he says, and he spits on the corpse. He is about to make his heavy way from the alley when suddenly a torch is thrust into the entrance, dazzling him with orange.
"Here, what's this all about?" It's an unfamiliar sailor, but the look on the man's face as he sees Jack is priceless. Then his eyes go to the corpse, and his mouth drops open.
"What the fuck?! Captain Trumper!"
Jack looks down too, but the face barely registers with him -- he has seen it by touch. What really registers is is the gold braid on the blue Navy coat. And the name -- Captain. Captain Trumper.
"That's just my own damn luck," he hears his own rueful voice saying. Then he is jumping at the torch, knocking it out of the sailor's hand, pushing past, and running for his life as the sailor raises hell behind him.
Panicking, he loses his way, and when he comes around he is higher up than he means to be: he can see the lights of the dock but they are miles away. He can also see groups of torches bobbing in previously dark streets: they are looking for him. Houses surround him, dark and quiet, because this is a part of the city not used to having panicked sailors running through it.
They expect you to go back to the docks, his mind babbles. They'll be able to find you by your description. They'll know which ship you came from, how long you've been here, what town you were born in. And oh, the price of killing a captain, you fool! It's hanging! It's hanging! It's hanging!
"Shut up," he mutters at himself. He walks down the street quietly, looking hard at each house. In a few minutes he finds a house with a low wall bounding the overgrown garden, a house that has an unoccupied look. He slides over the wall and crouches his way through the bougainvillea. One look through the window satisfies -- the furniture is covered with cloth, the piano muffled in white linen, and the even the lights are bundled up.
He slides up the window sash and tumbles onto parquet flooring. His head gives one last throb and overpowers his body. He moans and passes out, sprawled in someone's music room with blood seeping from his forehead and staining his hair even darker.
They have caught him: he is going to hang. They tie his hands behind his back and read him the charges. They laugh and laugh. "Fly away, Sparrow," they say as they jerk the rope tight around his neck. "Fly away and be a pirate."
Fog comes down on the gallows and surrounds him. "I didn't do it," he tries to say, but they pull the lever and he goes down, his scream cut off, his breath smashed in his chest.
"Hush!" says a voice by his ear. "Hush, fool!" Jack's eyes fly open and connect with the brown eyes of a woman who is holding him down with one hand on his ribs and one over his mouth. He bucks under her hand, but can't budge her. She is very strong.
"Stop. Screaming!" she orders tersely. Jack stills. He is on a bed, perhaps in the same house he'd fallen into. He doesn't know how long ago that was. His headache is not gone but it has muted, sitting in the back of his skull and biding its time.
His eyes uncross and he smiles at her. "I'll be quiet," he whispers, and her expression lightens quite a bit. She climbs off of him, which improves his breathing quite a bit.
"You gave me such a fright," she says. "Lying on the floor bleeding like that. But you were easy enough to lift." She smiles. She looks wiry and strong -- she looks about his age, but she acts older. "What's your name?"
"Jack Sparrow," he says, and smiles as she smiles.
"A pretty name for a pretty boy. "I'm Charity." She gives no last name, which cements it: she must be a slave. Many blacks in Jamaica are free, but they don't live in fancy houses. She continues on. "My parents caretakers here. Some days I go up and check around the house for them."
"I'm so glad you did," he says. "What time is it?"
She shrugs. "Morning. Coming on toward noon, I reckon."
Jack turns his head toward the window, and sure enough, the sun is high. He groans.
"Someone looking for you, eh?" Her laugh is strong and low.
"Yeh," he confirms. "More than one someone."
"No one finds you here." She puts a hand on his forehead. "Bandage is tight, I brought you little food. You stay here till nightfall, I figure out what to do with you. Maybe I talk to my brother -- he has a ship, goes from here to Boston."
"Your brother -- has a ship?"
"No, fool." Her expression goes rueful. "He's on board it though. He stays free -- as long as he don't get caught. And so do you. Savvy?"
"I savvy." And it's his turn to eye her speculatively. "Why are you doing this? I could be a very bad person."
"No one so pretty can be so bad," she laughs quietly. "And you running from the Navy, yeh? I saw them in the streets looking for you. I hate the Navy. Killed my husband, two years gone. Said he was starting riots."
"And was he?" enquires Jack. She grimaces, her expression one of old pain.
"He was. But he never would have chosen silence." She hands him a waterskin and stands. She is tall, probably taller than he, and slender. Her skin glows in the sunlight. Jack's mouth drops open. She has turned away, and he can see the marks of a whip on her back at the neck of her dress, but she is very beautiful. The resulting surge of lust does a lot towards banishing Jack's headache for good.
He lays in the bed, aching from head to toe, drinking water when he has to and staggering down to the garden once to piss. The day passes slowly. He feels his head and finds one hell of a goose egg. But he has all his fingers. He feels very good about that. With a small pan of water that she has left, he washes his face and hands, strips off his shirt, and scrubs it as best he can.
Charity has left him bread and cheese. He eats every bit. He sits in the window, watching the fiery sun set over the horizon. He aches to be back on the ocean, where everything is simple. The water doesn't care that he's just killed a Navy captain. The fish don't care that he's pretty enough to be raped by said captain, and that no one would believe him or care. Captain hits you, he's justified. You hit the captain, they put a rope around your neck.
"Fucking hell," he mutters, leaning his head against the window. What's left for him now? Deserting the Navy, turning privateer or emigrating to the New World, taking a ship to Boston or Jamestown. Maybe he should've just let the captain take advantage. What would it have hurt?
"My arse, for one," he mutters to himself, "and my pride."
The wind blowing off the sea cools his face, the darkness deepens, and he hears Charity's soft singing as she approaches the house.
"Some days we catchin' whales, me lads, some days we catchin' none,
with a twenty foot oar stuck in your hand from four o'clock in the morn'.
And when the day is over lads,
you sit on your weary oar,
it's then that you wish that you were dead, you'd go to sea no more."
Behind him the front door opens, but Jack doesn't move. He stays leaning against the wall, letting her come to him.
"How you feeling?" she asks from the doorway.
"Better. Head's still sore though."
"The captain you killed, he has friends. They are very angry, they look everywhere for you. My brother, he sails to Boston, but stops at the Seychelles. He says you can work your passage as long as you want."
He turns his head then to look at her, dark against the darkness. "I reckon your brother isn't in the Navy."
"You reckon right. He's a smuggler."
"Don't you mean a pirate?" Jack tries to keep the bitterness out of his voice. He doesn't want to be a pirate. He wants a normal sailor's life. However normal a sailor's life can be. He sighs again and turns back to the window.
She is silent for a moment. And then she moves up to sit on the window ledge beside him. "Not a pirate. He doesn't loot other ships. A smuggler."
"Don't you think one leads to another?"
Another long silence. Then she asks, "Why did you kill that Navy man?"
It's his turn to stop and regard her for awhile. She looks quiet, interested, unsurprised. A woman whose husband incited riots is probably not so innocent, so he tells her.
"He shoved me up against a wall in an alley and tried to rape me."
"Huh," she says quietly. "Happen to me once, when I was a girl. Before I got married. My master said he had the rights of me first, before William -- my husband."
Jack is glad for the dark: he has nothing to say to that matter-of-fact revelation. "I'm sorry," he finally says. She shrugs.
"He let me get married, after. What choice did I have? But you, you have a choice. And maybe you don't want to work for people like that anymore. Maybe you want to be your own master. You can work outside the law too. Just -- don't get caught."
"How old are you?" he asks, smiling again at how old she sounds. She looks back at him and smiles, putting her head back against the window.
Jack smiles too. "I'm twenty-six. But you are much too old for your age."
"I've seen a lot without being seen," she replies. The old sadness is back, lining her face, making it look even older. He puts his hand up to her cheek, smoothing the lines that aren't really there.
"I see you," he says quietly, and she smiles again. Turns her head into his palm and kisses it. Moves down to his wrist and licks the pulse there. Jack's breath dies in his throat.
The buttons on her dress are very small, and his hands shake, opening them. Moonlight turns her skin into black pearl. Her hair, unbound, is not much longer than his. The bed is dusty: he is breathless against her mouth, restless under her hands.
By dawn, she is gone.
Jack follows the directions on the piece of paper. In the early morning stillness, he moves through the fog like a wraith. The paper says, "My brother's name is Honour. He is on the Mary Elles, leaving on today's tide. Tell him I sent you." The handwriting is round and well-formed, much better than Jack himself can do.
He'd thought about leaving a note, but dismissed it as trite. And he isn't sure who might find it. So he settled for making the bed and leaving a yellow flower from the garden in the middle of it. Jack isn't exactly romantic, at least he doesn't think of himself that way. But in the wake of a lovely night, he's sometimes kind of -- gooey.
What will Pellier say when Jack never comes back to the berth they share? Does he already know that Jack is a murderer? Jack makes a promise to himself, to write a message and get it to Pellier somehow. Pellier will believe Jack -- he ought to know the truth. He will know.
Jack hums the song Charity was singing last night. It's an old ballad, one that every sailor and islander knows. The unfortunate sailor in the song is named Jack Tarr, but it's close enough that he puts his own name in.
"I spent that night with Angeline,
too drunk to roll in bed.
Me clothes were new and me money was too: in the morning with 'em she fled.
And as I walked the streets alone,
the whores they all did roar,
There goes Jack Sparrow, poor sailor lad, he must go to sea once more."
Notes: "Go to sea no more" is a traditional sea chanty with lots of different variations. I just picked the one I liked best. The "golden age" of pirates in the Caribbean was from 1640-1721 or so. I have set the story around the middle of that period, just for fun, because Disney obviously doesn't give a damn. Don't ask me why I do.
If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Zara Hemla
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