Thom raced up to the scene, leaping and tackling the drunken sailor – the drunkard losing his hold on Mrs McCarthy – and they both rolled sprawled into the filthy, damp muck. The drunken sailor delivered a punch to Thom’s jaw, make it crack loudly. Thom spat blood and filth into sailor’s eye, head-butting him in his nose.
“Are you mad, man?” Thom said, shouting.
“Lay off me, mate, I’m well chaffed!” said the man.
“That was my father’s wife you had! Screamin’ her guts out in your hands!” he punched the man.
“Your father’s wife, ye say?” the man chuckled, the drunken slur in his voice indicating he hadn’t quite taken in the gravity of the matter, “A pretty wench like that, I’d wager she’s sick o’ your old man. Ye’re old yourself. Your father must’ve had a good time wi’ that one.”
“Don’t talk o’ my father that way, ye sorry bastard! The Hell is wrong with you?”
“Why, what’re ye goin’ t’do about it?” the man rolled Thom over in the mud, sitting on his chest and straddling him, and then pressing his fingers in his throat, “Eh? Why don’t ye cry out for your pappy and your mammy now?”
Thom stared at him murderously, his face turning red in a struggle for breath. He gritted his teeth, reaching for the dagger in his sleeve. Grasping the hilt with both hands, seeing spots appear in the line of his vision, Thom stabbed the man at the bottom of his spine. The man threw his head back and howled, immediately releasing hold. Thom took a moment to fill his lungs, punching the man hard in his exposed throat. He choked, grasping his own neck, coughing and spluttering. Thom sheathed his dagger again, and panted as he sat up.
Something was wrong.
The man continued to choke, and Thom watched in disbelief as the man reached for him with a shaky hand – not to hurt him, Thom realized, but asking for help.
I couldn’t have hit him that hard… Could I? Thom thought, taking the man’s hand.
“Oi, what’s wrong?” said Thom, shaking him, “Say something.”
The man tried to gasp, clasping his throat and moving his fingers, in an attempt to try and fix what Thom had clearly damaged. His eyes began to flutter, his tongue sticking out and wagging. It wasn’t long before he fell on his face, unmoving.
No, thought Thom, his eyes wide, No, no, no…
“Tom?” called the voice he least wanted to here in this situation, “What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothin’, Maggie,” he said, in a tone which denoted the complete opposite, “nothin’, nothin’,” Thom’s eyes could not move from the body of a fellow pirate, “Get up, we have t’go,” he looked at Mrs McCarthy, his face pale with panic, “We’ve t’go now!”
Mrs McCarthy, still quite shaken, took her daughter by the hand and headed in the direction of the ship, avoiding the other passed-out and drunk pirates.
Thom looked for Malcolm, who was still very sober.
The lad’s precautious, bless him, Thom thought gratefully.
“Malcolm,” he said.
Malcolm looked at his captain, “You alright, Tinker? You look like ye’ve seen a ghost.”
“Round the lads up, we have t’leave.”
“Damn it, man, there’s no time t’explain now! Find Quick too, and tell him t’tag along. If not now, then soon. I need t’talk to him,” he paused and turned away, “I’ve done a bad, bad thing.”
* * * * *
Rain began to fall hard, as The Tinker’s Curse cut through the ocean in a hurry. Thom manned the wheel, twisting and turning it around the scarce patches of land that appeared in the sea – the rain drenching his hair and clothes, making everything heavier and harder to do. It was a night to spend on land, the weather as it was. There was a possibility of a storm coming on, and Thom’s crew would not fare well in such an occurrence. But Thom had had no choice.
A life of piracy held few rules, but those rules were still meant to be obeyed. He had killed a fellow pirate, and if he was caught by the captain, or if the rest of his crew found out… he could be marooned: Left on an uninhabitable island, with a keg of rum and a pistol loaded with single bullet – nothing more – with only one inevitable option.
If the consequences fell only on himself, perhaps he wouldn’t have been so worried. But with his family at stake… what would become of them? Of little Margaret?
“Captain?” said Malcolm.
Thom almost jumped out of his skin, his chain of thought having been broken abruptly. He paused to take a breath, “Don’t do that.”
Malcolm gave him a look, “We should dock. This weather’ll take a few turns.”
Thom shook his head, “Can’t,” and then barked to his crew, “Are you mad! Don’t put the sails down, damn it!”
Thom didn’t look Malcolm as he replied, “An accident.”
Thunder crackled from above.
“Promise me you won’t tell the rest o’ the crew.”
“I didn’t hear–”
Thom’s confession dropped out of his mouth like a bullet, “I’ve done something terrible Malcolm! A pirate on that island tried t’take my step-mother, and I killed him. I didn’t mean to, I only meant t’beat him hard, but I killed him!” he rubbed his forehead with the back of his hand, as if that would clear his vision, “Christ, what am I goin’ to do?”
“Ye did what!” Malcolm burst out, staring at his captain.
“Shh, shh!” said Thom, “I know, I know!”
“Who– who was the man? Damn it, Tinker, I told ye t’keep her close!”
“Oh, shut your hole! Ye know how she is! I went off t’talk with Anne and–”
“Aye, to talk! Nothin’ else!” said Thom angrily, “I went t’get information about Hornigold.”
“Well, it’s a right pickle ye’ve put yourself in! Until we find out who he is… we won’t know who else is after ye,” said Malcolm, taking the wheel, “Ye go talk your step-mam, eh? Calm down. This is no light matter, but there’s nothin’ doin’ about it now.”
Thom paused, regarding Malcolm, “Sometimes I wonder if you should’ve become the captain of this ship,” then he walked off to his cabin.
He opened the door, seeing Margaret sleeping soundly in his crib. Mrs McCarthy stroked her hair gently with one hand, looking intently at the girl but bearing a distanced look in her eyes. As if she wasn’t quite there – on the ship, in the cabin, next to Margaret.
Thom thought he could see where exactly she was.
In their house, in London, a young woman in an old man’s home.
And to Thomas – oh, the young lad, Thomas! – an intruder.
Thom stood by the door some more, rain-water pouring in and speckling the clean wooden floor – and sighed. He stepped in, his sodden boots making dark prints and squelching as he moved, and shut the door behind him. He stripped off his jacket – the tunic underneath no less wet than his coat – and hung it up on a hook. Then he sat in a corner and pulled of his boots, leaving his drenched self leaning against the walls – his head tossed back and staring at the ceiling.
Too many things. Too many things going on. Too many things to contend.
“You killed him, didn’t you?” asked Mrs McCarthy.
Thom paused, exhausted by the day and by his emotions, and didn’t look at her when he said, “Ye saw him die, madam. Why must ye ask me?”
“I…” she began, but she stopped.
There was a long silence between the two. Thom could see in his mind’s eye – his step-mother, turning away from him, planning to run away with Margaret, swim to shore and just disappear from his life: because of what she had seen tonight.
It hurt him.
It stabbed him deeper than any cutlass or any bullet could. So harsh was the image, that he curled up in that corner – like the little boy that Mrs McCarthy knew all too well – and cried.
He cried because he’d lost his father.
He cried because he was being hunted down by a turncoat.
He cried because he’d killed a fellow pirate.
But most of all – Thom cried because he was afraid of losing the only blood he had left: his sister.
With her around – no matter how small, young or mischievous she was – there was something to live for, something to build a life on, a purpose to a broken life. With Margaret, there was hope.
But all his memories – all his old, painful memories – tightened his chest like a vice.
I never should have left home.
Mrs McCarthy just sat and stared, not knowing what do or how to react. Deep down, she knew that Thom regretted his wrongs and misgivings.