Thom hated being scolded. He hated it even more when Quick was scolding him.
“You killed a pirate!” Quick howled.
They were in a cabin aboard The Half-Caste, alone – and Thom was grateful for it. Quick was raging around, breaking some of his trinkets as he bawled at Thom.
“A fuckin’ pirate, McCarthy! Of all fuckin’ people!”
Thom looked at his boots and rubbed his forehead, mumbling, “I didn’t mean to–”
“I don’t give a damn if ye bloomin’ well hadn’t meant to!” Quick bent forward and spread his arms, deep lines forming on his brow and his arms spread wide – as if to slap Thom on both sides of his face, “I should string ye up for’t, mate! Would I be wrong in doin’ that?”
Thom looked up at him, his jaw set. No matter what Thom said, nobody wanted to listen. So he just stared at Quick as he cursed and muttered and kicked things over in his anger.
It took a while for Quick to calm down. He sat down at last, his throat awfully sore, and pulled out a bottle of rum from a casket he’d shattered.
“Fuck…” he muttered, pulling out the cork and taking a swig.
Thom still didn’t say anything, tilting his head to a side.
“Go on,” said Quick gruffly, “I’m done. What d’ye need?”
Thom tapped the table with his knuckles and said, “Who’s man did I kill?”
“Captain Jenkins – and he ain’t happy about’t. Ye killed his quarter-master (and some say, Nancy-boy). He don’t know it’s you, but I bet he suspects it – the way ye took off in that bleedin’ storm last night!”
“Jenkins…” Thom mused. He brushed the stubble on his chin with his forefinger. Jenkins was not a man to be trifled with. He was a stout, harsh man – not the merriest pirate to sail the Seven Seas. If there was anyone who was coming after Thom now and immediately – sod Hornigold! – Jenkins was coming for him. Thom scowled, “Of all people, it had t’be him!”
“Shut your arse, Tinker!” Quick glowered at him, “You were the man who killed the pirate!”
Thom sighed, “What am I suppose t’do?”
“Run,” said Quick, belching as he stood.
“Run where?” said Thom, following after him.
Quick turned slightly, “Ye’re askin’ me as though I’m goin’ t’help ye get there.”
“I was supposin’ ye–”
“I’m not,” Quick snapped, “What ye did is a big thing, Tinker. Now, don’t get me wrong. I like you, lad. I think highly o’ ye. But I’m not about t’make an enemy o’ Jenkins for ye. Ye’re on your own,” he pointed out to sea, “Now get off my ship.”
* * * * *
Thom met Malcolm on the helm of The Tinker’s Curse, pale and speechless.
“I take’t there’s no luck with Quick then?” said Malcolm.
Thom did answer, “Turn around. We’re goin’ back t’New Nassau.”
Malcolm gave him a look for a long moment, not turning a the wheel. Thom sighed and took the wheel from him and turned the ship.
Malcolm took a step back, “The crew’re goin’ t’be wonderin’, Tinker… why ye led them through a storm o’er two days just so ye could turn back the way ye came…”
“I killed Jenkin’s man,” said Thom.
Malcolm’s eyes widened, “Oh no…”
“He’d’ve come out lookin’ for me, Malcolm. The only way is back. It’s the last place he’d look. The last place he’d find me.”
Malcolm gave his captain a long, hard look, “This is not goin’ t’end well.”
* * * * *
Thom was turning in for the night. Malcolm offered to steer the ship and wake him a few hours later. As he took off his coat and entered the cabin, Thom found his step-mother waiting expectantly for him. She was washing clothes in a bucket, as Margaret snoozed soundly in his cot.
Thom glanced at Mrs McCarthy – she was staring at him as he entered – but didn’t say anything. Margaret had been awfully sedated for the last few days and he’d began to wonder whether his spritely little sister had figured a few things out. Or whether Mrs McCarthy had told her. He didn’t think on it for too long, however.
He sat in the corner, pulling off his tunic, and picking up a bottle of rum. He drank it slowly, the sweet narcotic seeping through his taste-buds and slithering down his throat. He shook his head, and sighed.
“Pass me your tunic, Thomas,” said Mrs McCarthy.
He looked at her for a minute and then kicked the item of clothing in her direction. She sighed, but got up and took it from the floor and dipped it in her bucket, holding the worn cloth between her hands and giving it a hard scrub. She wished she had some of that Turkish soap.
“Ever considered a bath, Tom?” she asked, “You really stink.”
He grunted, and frowned.
“I’d think that – living surrounded by water – you’d think more on your hygiene. Just a thought, you know.”
Thom squinted an eye at her, “What d’ye want, madam?”
She gazed at him, “Just a chat, Thomas.”
“Would ye blame me for doubtin’ it?”
She hesitated, “No.”
“Then, I doubt’t,” he took another swig of his drink.
“What else could I possibly want out o’ you?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, bitterly, “Two men’re searchin’ the ocean for me. They want my life and my dignity – it not like there’s much else ye could ‘ave from me. But I suppose, if ye’d like t’take a sharp poke, madam – here’s your chance. There’s no tellin’: when I’m about to die,” he looked away.
Mrs McCarthy’s shoulders sagged, “Thomas?”
He looked at her.
“You’re a pillock.”
He sighed, “Aye,” and drank.
“But… you’re a good pillock,” she said, resuming her scrubbing, “a… a determined pillock, a caring pillock…”
“I ne’er knew there were so many kinds o’ pillocks, madam.”
“You invented them all.”
“Ye can carve it in my tomb-stone, eh? At least I’d be remembered for somethin’.”
“Thomas…” she dropped the tunic in the bucket and put her hands in her lap, and looked at him, “I know you were ne’er fond of me. I knew it as soon as I stepped into your father’s house,” she looked away, “But… a few days ago, you killed a man for me…” she looked up, as if the ceiling would help her search for the words she was trying to say, “I’m sorry, a’right?”
He furrowed his brows at her, “For what?”
“For… for not thankin’ you.”
“Ye can hold your thanks, madam,” he said, “I’ve put ye in more trouble than ye bargained for. Ye’ll be cursin’ me yet. Just wait.”
“I don’t want to do that, Thomas.”
“Then what d’ye want?”
She got up and sat in front of him, “I want my son back.”
“You ne’er had a son.”
“I always thought I did, Thomas,” she took his hand, “even if you… ne’er saw me as your Mam.”
Thom batted her hand away, “You were ne’er my mother,” he said, in a small voice, “Not then, and not now.”
Mrs McCarthy sighed, and backed up a little, “Fine. I’m sorry. Nothing else.”
He turned his face away. She saw a small tear roll down his cheek, cutting through the grime the day’s work had piled on.
“You were four years older than I when ye stepped into my house,” he said, holding the bottle close to his mouth, “My mother hadn’t been buried for more than two months, and he got you,” he looked around, searchingly, “God, I loved her! Her voice, her touch, the way she always knew everythin’. Then the illness came. It took her voice. It took her touch. But she still knew everythin’. She still did everythin’. And she still loved me. My father loved me then too. And then… she died. And everythin’ else…” he sniffed and looked up, gasping as if saying such things were pressing down on his throat, his lungs, constricting his breathing, “everythin’ else died with her. The illness had taken the beauty from her face, but when they buried her – she was smilin’. I remember that. That ghost o’ a smile. I wonder if she was thinkin’ o’ me when she died… I hope so. I want her t’be happy wi’ me,” he blinked and more tears streamed down his face.
“And then you came,” he said, looking at his step-mother, “And… everythin’ changed. All my father ever thought about was you. He ne’er played games wi’ me, ne’er took me fishin’ – not like he used to, when Mam was around. He ne’er beat me, either, until you came. It was as if it hurt him t’look at me, because every time he did – he’d frown. When I spoke, he’d just say, aye. Aye. That’s it. Ne’er anythin’ else – unless I’d broken somethin or hurt one o’ the neighbours or spilled my guts out behind a tavern. All he cared about was you, madam,” the bitterness left his voice, “You can’t change that. I’ll ne’er love you. But, because o’ Maggie and because she’s my sister and because ye’re her mother, I’ll look after ye where and when I can, to the best o’ my ability. But ‘mother’?” he got up and walked away, “I only e’er had one. And she’s gone,” he shrugged, “I s’pose I’ll be joinin’ her soon, so that’s somethin’ t’look forward to.”