Thursday, December 29, 2016

An Author's Resolutions, 2017

Over the last few days (hell, the last month), I’ve begun thinking about not only the 2017 business plan, but also my resolutions for the new year.

I have to be honest: I didn’t do well with my 2016 resolutions—I will blog more in 2016? Blogs were down from 41 to 29, not including this post. Significantly reduce my time on social media? You’re having a laugh—and I wondered if I would even do a list of resolutions because of this. Besides, I already did a post in early August about my goals for the next 12 months. I didn’t really need to do one.

But the great thing about setting goals and resolutions is that you have the ability to re-evaluate them at certain intervals, adjust things, and move on. And that’s what I’m doing today. Away we go:

I will write 250,000 words in 2017

I wrote approximately 219,000 words in 2016 over the course of two-plus books (the last 17,000 or so in The Peg-Legged Privateer, plus 101,437 in Ticket Agent, and the first 100,000 in Persuaded By The Reflections). I expect I’ll get another 25,000 words in Persuaded written before I wrap it up, but at 70,000 words I thought I would need only 50,000 more to finish; we can re-evaluate that when we get closer. It’s quite possible that Persuaded will surpass Redeemed in published words (132,000+), and maybe even Redeemed’s first draft total (140,177); I think it might. I don’t really know where the count will end up, and I’m hoping the first draft will be done by the end of February. That’s not a drop dead deadline for the book, but that’s my hopeful ending point. The end of February will mean a late summer edit, i.e. July or August, and a late December release. For March through June, I’m planning on writing the ninth Jaclyn Johnson novel, and I’m still up in the air about what I want to do in the second half of the year. Quite possibly the new series I mentioned this past August.

I want to publish two books, along with freshening up some of the back list, in 2017

Ticket Agent is currently with Kim—it’s her birthday, by the way, so happy birthday to Kim!—and I’ve given her until the end of January to get back notes and corrections to me so we can have a February release, much like we have had for Chemical (mid-February 2016) and Ticket (late January 2015) in recent years. Persuaded won’t be ready until late 2017, but I’m not going to publish it until it’s absolutely perfect. I’m also not going to go up against the holiday season. My hope is that the book will be published before the year is out, though. It could need some work after I do the editing, or it could be one of the greatest things I’ve ever written (after taking seven months to write the first draft, it might be). But not only that, I want to take some time to freshen up some of my older work; I may give Royal Switch a pass-through, mainly to see if I can fix the opening to the story and move that sluggish info dump somewhere else. I want to go back through two of my old John Fitch V titles and see if they can be fixed up and brought into my current writing level; I also want to freshen up the cover for A Galaxy At War, and possibly re-title it. And I want to get Furball & Feathers re-issued by the summer, too. I’ve done a sketch of potential cover art for it, but is it good enough to be published? I’m not too sure.

I want to learn how to do wrap-around covers for paperbacks in 2017

You’ll recall in August I declared that all of my work needs to be in paperback following my successful appearance at the Plastic City Comic Con on July 31. The second one is coming on July 30, 2017, in my hometown of Fitchburg. So far, 12 of my titles, including the entirety of the AGENT series, are in paperback, and I wanted to have the entire catalogue out in paperback by Thanksgiving in order to sell for the Christmas holiday. That didn’t happen, and that’s my fault. Honestly, I should know how to do a wrap-around; I can do a flat cover easily, and do it on the cheap, but not making it look cheap. So what I need to do is look for a tutorial in my spare time—what’s that?—and learn this important book creating tool.

I want to have The Obloeron Saga out in single copies for ebook and paperback in 2017

Pretty easy to do. I need covers for those, and I need the money to buy the artwork. That will happen when I can afford it.

I want to do better convention prep in time for PCCC in 2017

This will be some of the things I do in the first half of the year: get the Square credit card reader, get book stands, and, little by little, buy product for the event, i.e. ordering 10-15 copies of Zombie Showdown by the end of January and having them on-hand and ready, buying X of Ticket Agent and all the others, etc. In order to have an even more successful con, I need to have all of these things ready to go.

I want to get the rest of the AGENT series out in audiobook in 2017

Not exactly something in my control: this is akin to wanting 10,000 or more book sales in a year, because that’s something I can’t control. Laura Jennings has done a marvelous job on the first five audiobooks in the series, and I’m hoping she’ll continue in 2017.

I want to advertise more in 2017

I’m still here. I’m not going away any time soon. But still—my sales numbers do not reflect the numbers a full-time author should make, but again, that’s something that’s partially out of my control; I can’t rip people’s arms out of their sockets and make them buy my books. While I can turn a phrase with the best of them, my marketing skills are dreadful. I’ve relied mainly on word of mouth, Facebook links, Twitter, and—before 2012 and meeting my wife—ebook advertisers in eReader News Today and Kindle Nation Daily to varying degrees of success. I heard recently that one author got a BookBub ad without the pre-requisite review numbers, and I’m hoping I can do the same this coming year. Also some Facebook ads to encourage mailing list signups, Amazon ads, Twitter ads, and ENT/KND/BookGoodies/etc. I desperately need to re-claim my audience!

We’ll re-evaluate as the year goes on.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cleaning off the desk, 2016 style

Earlier this afternoon, I hit the 100,000-word mark in my current WIP, Persuaded By The Reflections; Persuaded is the follow-up to The Long Crimson Line. Tallying that count up with the first draft count of the forthcoming Jaclyn Johnson novel Ticket Agent, plus the estimated ending of The Peg-Legged Privateer that I wrote in January, I end 2016 with about 218,596 words of fiction written. Rounding it up to a cool 219,000 sounds pretty snazzy, if I do say so myself.

Now, with only a few days remaining in the calendar year, I'm taking the time to recharge--in lieu of IBC Root Beer, I'm celebrating the 100K-word plateau with some reading and no fiction until at least January 2.

But in the meantime, it's not bad to look back on what I did this year, and also raise a beer in celebration:

In addition to 219K words written, I published three books. Yup, I released the seventh Jaclyn Johnson novel Chemical Agent, along with the third (and more than likely final) Alex Bourque mystery, Beach Blanket Bloodshed. Not only that, I also re-launched the two other books in that particular series with new cover art, as well as a bundle of those three books.

Earlier this month, The Peg-Legged Privateer launched.

And if you missed it, I had an awesome Plastic City Comic Con back in July. I've also had Jaclyn Johnson optioned for TV and film.

To say that I hit writing and publishing goals is an understatement. When I plot out my goals, I work my ass off to hit them. That has been my mantra since I started writing. I had a good year.

Sales goals, of course, is a different story. I took a loss this year, and I'll be re-assessing my sales goals--or deciding whether or not having them is a good thing to begin with--within the coming days.

I'll be sure to let you all know as the business plan comes into clearer focus--2017 is on the horizon.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Happy Book Day, and Avast me hearties! THE PEG-LEGGED PRIVATEER is here!

Back at the tail end of January, you’ll recall I penned a blog entitled “Twenty-five First Drafts.” I had just finished writing the first draft to The Peg-Legged Privateer: A Tattered Sails Novel, and I was pretty happy with the job I did. And in the last few weeks, I’ve talked about the characters involved, the creatures they encounter, and I even wrote up a short storyleading into the novel proper.

And now, it’s time to release Paulina out into the world.

Yes, folks, it is time. For the 25th time, it is time to celebrate Book Day.

Here’s what the book is all about:

Long in the service of the 12th Baron Wilton, the privateer known as Paulina has reached her limit. Between a township that doesn’t care for her, the Baron assuring her pledge that she’ll go down with her last ship, and his lascivious advances toward her newest paramour, Paulina plots to betray him.

She just needs a little help in the form of her all-women crew to do it.

Taking four ladies along with her, Paulina takes the Good Queen Bess for her maiden voyage through the Caribe, where mystical beings and scoundrels alike look to thwart her and send her to the Realm of the Locker.

But they don’t count on the steel and magical energies this quintet utilizes to stain the wine-colored waters an even darker shade.

Set in a parallel world to ours and in the Golden Age of Piracy, The Peg-Legged Privateer: A Tattered Sails Novel will quicken your pulse in more ways than one. It features the fast-paced action you’ve come to expect out of me, as well as a brash female protagonist—again, what you’ve come to expect from me.

And how about a little sex? It wouldn’t be a Sean Sweeney novel without a little hanky panky: Paulina considers herself heteroflexible, and her lover is also a woman. Can you say smokin’ hot lesbian pirates? Smokin’ hot lesbian pirates.

Get your copy in either ebook or trade paperback (trade paperback available only from Amazon at the mo) today, and remember: paperbacks make great stocking stuffers.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


About a week or so ago, I introduced you to the characters that make up the dramatis personae in The Peg-Legged Privateer: A Tattered Sails Novel, which releases tomorrow (TOMORROW!) on all ebook retailers (it's even available as a trade paperback, and pirate books make great Christmas presents, wink wink, nudge nudge). Today, I want to glaze over the creatures that are involved in this fantasy tale.

The Lusca

The Lusca is only mentioned a few times and doesn't truly make an appearance in the book, but it is a massive part of the opening. A creature with the arms of an octopus and the head and body of a shark, the Lusca has rammed Paulina's most recent ship entering the novel, has killed Baron Wilton's nephew, and has caused a great loss of life.

The Leviathans

The servants of Maricote, and by extension, the servants of Onyx Wren. Bettina calls them the "Squigglies." The Leviathans are massive water serpents who protect the Bess at Onyx's command.

The Water Walkers

A group of undead who are at the command of an unknown entity in Dominica; they attack the Bess mid-Caribe. Yes, they are re-animated magically to walk over water.

The rock troll and the serpents on the Isle de Mordre

In looking for Battleneck Bruce's booty, Paulina and her shipmates must navigate through an island of pitfalls, and these two particular beasties come one right after another.

How do they survive against all of this? You'll have to read the book to find out.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Getting to know the characters of THE PEG-LEGGED PRIVATEER

With Book Day approaching rather rapidly and will be here before we know it (Monday, Dec. 12), I thought it would be nice to introduce the characters you'll encounter when The Peg-Legged Privateer: A Tattered Sails Novel hits the virtual shelves.


Paulina is the Captain of the Good Queen Bess, and starts the novel as a privateer for the 12th Baron Wilton, William Weaver. She is deceptive and witty. Can be brash in stressful situations. She is also slender yet busty, red hair, green eyes, with skin the color of milk. Her most dangerous feature? She has wears a golden foot from just below right knee. The story of that incident may be told at a future time. She was, however, orphaned at the age of 5; parents’ ship crashed and sank. She was in turn picked up by Weaver. She is heteroflexible, meaning she likes to have a go with both genders. Entering the story, she hassurvived her third ship sinking. Believes in the goddess Amphitrite.
Bettina Brewer
Starting the story, Bettina is a barmaid at a pub she owns in Port Regret, and becomes first mate to Paulina on the GQB. Her father was a privateer for Weaver before he drowned, and she left Spicer's Bay at 18 years old. When Paulina approaches her, she has grown tired of what she calls, "the land lover life." Built like an ox, many sailors have tried to woo the great barmaid, but they have all had their failings exposed by her broadsword. She is brash, yet insightful; a strike-first type of gal. 
We meet Molly when Paulina arrives in Spicer's Bay, where she is a scullery maid to Weaver; was Paulina’s replacement in Weaver’s household/bed when the latter became a privateer; is Paulina’s current paramour. Molly is coy and demure, but also insightful. She is slender with black hair, and is busty.

I haven't explored Molly's backstory prior to her arrival, but it more than likely wasn't adventurous.

Sally Songspinner
Sally joins the crew of the Bess following an incident at a brothel called Regret's Pure Delights, where she stood as a strumpet; she becomes the unofficial second mate of the Bess. Blonde and slender with small breasts, Sally seems coy and demure at first but is easily angered when the situation calls for it. At the start, when wooing a pirate in the Delights, has a clipped, regular accent, but that accent turns salty when angered. Utilizes twin blades in combat.
Onyx Wren

The ebony-skinned witch doctor on the Bess. Onyx is an interesting character; she speaks without the use of contractions, and is a voice of reason and a calming influence on the Caribe. We learn that her parents were witch doctors who, like her, believed in the god Maricote; her mistress, at age 5, told her she has the ability to harness Maricote’s power. She uses powders to concoct cloud-like view screens, as well as particle drones from these powders to spy on approaching ships. Meditates, too. Uses balls of magical energy (“Maricote’s blessings”) to defeat enemies. She even has a pair of Leviathan snakes swimming around to do her dirty work.
And finally, William Weaver
As we've explained, Weaver is the 12th Baron Wilton of the Crownlands’ Wilton barony. An erudite and snobbish man, we learn that Weaver is a schemer. In the narrative, Weaver has been Paulina’s benefactor for many years, and he practically owns Spicer's Bay.

The Peg-Legged Privateer: A Tattered Sails Novel will be released on Dec. 12, 2016--one week after J. Kent Holloway's Tombstone Voodoo: A Tattered Sails Novel.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Casting Question: Who would play Jaclyn Johnson?

After I announced the optioning on Facebook last Friday, my pal Stephen Campbell suggested we play a little game called “Who will play Jaclyn Johnson?” in a potential future movie. Of course, I don’t know if I would have a say in casting should a studio pick the series up. Still, it’s always fun to throw around names.

Remember: this is just for fun. Others may have different thoughts, and by all means, add your thoughts to the comments section.

As Jaclyn: Hayden Panettiere, Ashley Eckstein, or an unknown up-and-comer

Wlad Klitschko’s wife and the voice of Ashoka Tano in Star Wars Clone Wars could fit the bill: both are relatively young and around Jaclyn’s age when she first appears in Model Agent. And both are blondes, so that works. I’ve always said I would want Panettiere as the lead, but Eckstein has the same qualities. A toss-up.

Of course, we may want to go with an unknown actress that audiences can grow to love instead of banking on automatic star power.

As Alex Dupuis: Geena Davis, Tea Leoni, or Jennifer Aniston

Alex’s character has to be not only tough, but a veteran actress who would command instant respect of not only the rest of the cast, but the audience, as well. Alex’s character resides between the ages of all three, and either could portray the no-nonsense director.

As Sarah Kendall: Kim Basinger

Vicki Vale is indeed presidential in my opinion, and Basinger has the ability to play a--spoiler alert--one-off character.

As Tom Messingham: Daniel Radcliffe or Matthew Lewis

For Jaclyn’s British boy toy, we would need an actor with dark hair, one who is recognizable, and one who can be the strength and comfort she needs in private without truly needing the spotlight; remember, Harry Potter never wanted it, and Neville Longbottom didn’t seem to mind the background. 

And if you think I mentioned that stuff for the Google hits, well, you know me too well.

As Melanie Ruoff: Sarah Michelle Gellar or Jessica Alba

We would need an actress in her late 30s/early 40s or thereabouts to portray the White House Chief of Staff. Gellar or Alba are right there.

As Eric Forrister: Unknown

I’ve never really given consideration as to who would play President Forrister before now, but he has to have that icy stare down for when he looks out over the South Lawn.

As Parkerhurst: Also unknown

I’ve always thought of Parkerhurst being a John Cleese-type of character, but I would have to think we need someone much younger, in the area of Jaclyn’s age or maybe a little older, in order to portray the CIA quartermaster.

As Salt: Also unknown

Another good question! We would need someone in his early 20s to portray the computer whiz.

What do you think? Do you think that’s an agreeable cast?

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What happens before Ticket Agent begins.....

*Spoilers ahead*

If you've read Chemical Agent: A Thriller, you already know certain events occur; these events are explained below in a Cliff's Notes-type of way. If you haven't read Chemical, stop reading now and grab it at your favorite online retailer... read it, then come back.
The following explains the start to the forthcoming Ticket Agent: A Thriller, and introduces a new character!


CIA Headquarters
Langley, Virginia
Tuesday, August 16, 8:35 a.m. ET

No matter how much air I pulled deep into my lungs, my heart wouldn’t stop its maddening thump even as I approached the familiar confines of my—no, Alex’s; it was never mine, no matter what Forrister had said—former office. And even as I pounded the stairs with quick strides, I felt an unrelenting weight of apprehension settle on my shoulders, a stitch forming over my chest.
Every emotion—all of them—came with good reason.
I hadn’t returned to Langley since my third successive cross-country trip to Seattle; the president had, in a way, put me out of action in the aftermath of Darren Drake’s death and the emotional toll and strain of Alex’s brutal assassination. And even though I felt I had executed the previous mission to the president’s personal satisfaction, I guess he had felt Tom and I needed a little time off from the counterterrorism business. When you’re the president, you get whatever little thing you want.
In all honesty, I felt glad for the diversion. My soul had grown heavy with grief, even after I had vanquished a foe from my childhood, a foe I had never expected to take down.
But right now was not the time for a vacation, or a holiday as Tom and the rest of my English-born in-laws would say, and it was not time to reminisce about lost mentors and the devastating emptiness a secret agent like myself felt in her heart a year or so after the fact. The phone call had come just after 6 a.m. this morning: the three of us were to report to Langley immediately. I told the party on the other end we’d be there as soon as we were all showered and dressed.
The party on the other end had stressed, in not so many words, that we should conserve water. I took it as a not-so-subtle hint of our country having work for not only me, but Tom and Tasha, also, to do.
I already knew what that work entailed; even though I was technically off-duty the past year, I still managed to keep up with the happenings around the country and the world, thanks to a few precious emails from Salt and through careful sifting of the various media slants on television and on the Internet. A small group of domestic terrorists had taken over Mount Rushmore earlier in the month, and they had successfully, somehow, managed to fend off not only the park rangers, but also the South Dakota State Police. And as the voice on the other end of our call spoke of the details, I learned the events had slowly grown out of hand.
With no viable alternative presenting itself, Forrister had told Alex’s replacement to recall us. Sitting up in bed and groggy, I figured it meant the situation now required my special talents and services. Two and a half hours later and the phone call still playing in my head, I tried to quell the sly grin forcing its way to my lips as I thought about which of my special talents I’d have to use to rectify this problem.
As we hurried up the stairs, a young woman a little older than Tasha rose from behind her desk and immediately buttoned her dark blue jacket before she gasped with recognition. She had a demure, professional look, almost in the same way I had dressed; her hair, the color of gingerbread, tied back save two wavy curls floating toward her cheeks, framed a pair of glasses which rested on a rather coquettish nose. She wore a business pant suit over her thin build, and her face looked tanned, as if she had spent time on a beach recently. Lucky girl.
“Agent Johnson-Messingham, Agent Messingham, Agent Verkler. The Director will see you,” she said as she slipped away from her chair and walked several feet to the door. We followed. I took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
I can’t speak for Tom and Tasha, but I felt my heart weeping as I crossed the threshold into Alex’s office, now the office of D. Colin Turner.
“Sir, Agents Snapshot, Scouser, and Sex Kitten to see you,” the secretary said.
I almost heard Tasha’s grin without even looking over my shoulder.
“Thank you, Christina,” Turner said as he stood and approached us. Christina departed without another word to us. I noticed he had already disposed of his suit jacket, a black number men wear at funerals; it hung over the back of his chair. He had the sleeves to his white Oxford already unbuttoned and rolled up to just below his elbows, exposing muscular, tanned, and un-tattooed forearms. I remembered Turner was once a member of Special Forces, so I knew he wouldn’t have one—not even a Superman emblem like Jon Bon Jovi wore on his shoulder, or one which showed his devotion to a particular sports team—on the off-chance his missions went sour. Having ink usually led to torture from the enemy, but I’m not revealing what Tom does when he sees mine. That’s pretty private.
He didn’t smile much as he came over and shook our hands. I immediately felt heavy callouses; I figured the callouses were a by-product of heavy lifting, shall we say, while undergoing classified missions in the Middle East prior to his presidentially-approved extraction a year ago. I saw the fluorescent lights of his office—an office he hadn’t, thankfully, changed much; I still felt Alex’s spirit here, something I had hoped would happen when we made the drive over the river from Foggy Bottom half an hour ago—reflecting in the razor-clean baldness of his head.
“Agent Johnson,” he said. “Glad to finally meet you in person.”
I nodded once.
“Same to you, sir.”
“And your entourage, as well. I’ve read the reports. The president, of course, speaks highly of all three of you.” The way he had said it made me wonder if he truly believed Forrister’s praise. He waved us toward a conference table which hadn’t been here while Alex was in charge. We all took seats, with Turner at the head. “You’re next up in the rotation, and I’m sure you know that we have a situation.”
I nodded again.
“South Dakota, I understand.”
“Give the lady a cigar.” He didn’t say it with any emotion backing it, which didn’t exactly surprise me; I had heard Turner owned a by-the-book discipline which—much like body art in Special Forces—frowned on mirth in the clandestine services. I knew I’d have to watch my tongue until we knew each other better; it was in some ways the same methodology Alex had used in the early goings between the two of us, and I hoped I had the ability to revert to that type of relationship. “Armed protesters have seized the monument, are currently occupying it, and they’ve taken to shooting at any official trying to reclaim it. They’ve already killed two men who tried to sneak close to them in broad daylight. The president believes, and I must concur, your skills would come in handy to remove these zealots.”
“Why are they there?” I asked. “I thought I heard something about land rights?”
“Two cigars. The protesters, and we feel they are far left in the political spectrum, and so far to the left that they would fall off your knee, deem it necessary to seize the monument and throw the federal government off the property. They wish to revert the land back to the Native American tribes who had called it home prior to colonization and expansion,” Turner said. “The interesting thing is, and not surprising, the Native Americans don’t want them to speak for them, and have said they can fight their own battles.”
I sniffed as I smiled.
“I’m sure they can.”
“The protesters aren’t listening.”
This time, I gave a full snort.
“Do they ever? Have they asked for snacks?”
“No. You are to go to the Black Hills immediately, Agent Snapshot,” Turner said, his tone rather sharp and succinct. Okay. “And if Agent Scouser wishes to go along with you, he may.” Tom nodded almost immediately; I wouldn’t have doubted his inclusion, and I more than likely would have rejected the assignment had he not been allowed to come with me. We were a team in every sense of the word, our nationalities notwithstanding. “Use any methods necessary to subdue them, but we’d like them alive. We’d like to question them.”
“So blowing up the mountain is pretty much out, Jaclyn,” Tasha said with a wide grin.
I tossed my ward a look of warning. She quieted herself, but she still wore a grin, even with her cheeks turning pink in front of my HUD.
“Yes, that would be the preferred result for everyone involved,” Turner added. “Agent Verkler, you are to stay here and help us monitor the situation.”
I watched as Tasha reacted to Turner’s pronouncement, and I noticed a bit of continuing maturity on her part as she let her lips twitch for just a moment before she finally nodded her assent a few semi-awkward moments later. If this meeting had taken place two years or so ago, she would have protested against the decision, much as she did when I told her she would have to head home from Sydney while Tom and I looked for the person or persons responsible for killing Adam Mendelsberg, the Israeli prime minister. Of course, she had, with Alex’s prompting, countermanded my order, and instead slammed the man who had killed Lavi with the front bumper of her Mustang. Which goes to show my own judgment is sometimes misaligned.
At least that’s what I tell myself.
“Yes, sir,” she said, her back straightening military-style as she accepted the mission. “What will my duties entail?”
Internally, I smiled matronly. My ward had grown so much in so short a time.
“You are to assist us in keeping watch over the mission in South Dakota,” Turner replied, not breaking stride or giving anyone a moment to breathe. It felt as if we met with Forrister instead of the director of the CIA, except Forrister wanted loads of information and input before he made his decision; Turner seemingly cracked the whip without pausing. “You will feed information between Langley and the op on-site, and you will, if my reading is correct, perform some of the duties Agent Snapshot here performed long ago.”
I knew what Turner meant. Just thinking about how I had worked alongside Alex as a pseudo-mission control tech back in the day made my heart skip another beat; again, I kept my smile hidden. It was a frightening yet interesting experience for me: here you are, off-site, and you’re giving instruction and advice to someone on-site who truly has a better handle on the situation than you ever would. It’s one of those situations where you’re being groomed for command at an early age, and the bosses want to see if their trust is validated or misplaced. There are a few differences to our situations, though: Tasha had performed admirably in the field prior to this, while I had done this while in my teens without any field experience whatsoever. I had no doubt she would exceed Turner’s expectations for the mission.
As I mused, she had nodded.
“I’m willing to do anything to help the mission succeed, sir,” she said.
“When we’re done with this mission, I will fully expect Tasha to continue her field training at The Farm,” I said. “Much in the same way I did.”
“I agree,” Turner added at once. “We will have need of more operatives in the coming years as our older agents retire and are phased out, just like I was last year.”
I took note he didn’t look at me when he had said that, which I took as a sign that my job wasn’t in jeopardy any time soon. I also took another note: he didn’t particularly like his current job, his lips emitting a throaty grumble as he spoke the final phrasing. I honestly didn’t blame him, and I knew exactly how he felt; I had loathed the idea of being stuck here in this office, pushing paper after Alex’s death. Turner and I had a kinship of sorts, just from what I had learned from him in my conservations with Forrister and Melanie Ruoff. We were both doers; we did our best work with guns, taking out terrorists. We considered pencils and budgets as the tools of lesser beings.
“All right, you three. Let’s move out,” he said, breaking my line of thought. “Here is information on the targets.” He passed me a manila folder—a fairly thin manila folder. “Agent Verkler, head down to the sub-basement; Desmond is waiting for you to bring you up to speed. Agent Johnson, Agent Messingham, Parkerhurst has processed my requisitions for you, and there is a plane headed to Ellsworth from Andrews in two hours. Report in when you land in South Dakota.”
We stood, and the three of us shook his hand. I almost wondered if he would request a salute as we left, but no such request came. We left and headed downstairs, not saying a word to Christina as we passed her. We didn’t even say anything to each other until we got to the elevators.
Tasha, I noticed, looked as if she had swallowed milk which had sat in the fridge well beyond the sell-by date.
“You’re going to be fine, Tasha,” I re-assured her as the numbers above plummeted. She looked at me and took a deep breath; the good air helped return the natural coloring to her face. She nodded.
“I know.”
“Think of it as a new wrinkle in your training. I did it, and I’m sure Tom did it.”
“I did,” my husband said; I felt gladdened for his remembered usage of words, seeing as I was about five seconds from prying his lips open with a crowbar. I understood his reservations about speaking openly in front of Turner. He was still a guest agent in this country, and while Forrister appreciated his input all the time, we hadn’t nailed Turner down yet regarding his acceptance of foreign help. The fact Turner mentioned Tom as being a part of the operation meant nothing. “Dad made sure I had all my training down nice and proper.”
The elevator dinged as it came to a stop.
“I guess I’ll talk to you over the phone,” she said as she gave us both hugs. Tasha turned and headed toward Salt’s office, the nickel gray walls stretching a hundred feet away. “Love you guys.”
“Love you, too, kiddo,” I said as the doors closed.
“What do you think of Turner so far?” Tom asked as soon as the elevator resumed its trip.
“He’s hard to get a bead on, but I knew this coming in,” I replied. “He had been inserted in the Middle East for how long before Forrister had him extracted? Before my Boston mission, long before you and I met. Think of it this way: If you’ve only been in a foreign country for over half a decade working to bring down al-Qaeda from within, with no one you can trust nearby save at our military bases—and keep in mind, no one in our military knew what he was up to or where he was, for starters—wouldn’t you be a little jumpy when you return home?”
“If you take away bringing down al-Qaeda and replace trusting no one with a Yank who I share bed space, then yes, I’d be quite jumpy when I went back to mum’s when you went to Atlanta.”
I had to admit: he had me there, but I would never admit that to him. Instead, I rolled my eyes underneath my Foster Grants and tried to draw out my counter.
“You were with me and Tasha for four weeks. Four weeks is not half a decade.”
“When your jaw is wired shut and your future wife is out hunting child molesters and human traffickers in Southern California, four weeks feels like an eternity.”
I didn’t reply. Instead, I subtly shifted my weight and waited for the elevator to stop again. Tom wrapped his arms around my waist; he gave me a soft kiss on the cheek, one I leaned into. The elevator came to a stop a few moments later, accented by a ding. Parkerhurst’s floor.
The doors slid open for us to find the smiling, waiting quartermaster looking right at us. The smile evaporated in a few heartbeats, replaced by a pair of rolling eyes.
“Please do not use my elevator as a place to neck, Snapshot,” he said as he turned and walked back toward his work station. We followed. “I thought the necking ends when you get married.”
“Not at all, mate,” Tom jovially said as he shoved his hands into his pockets. “Being married means you get to do it anywhere, without the throes of judgment ringing down all over the place.”
I heard Parkerhurst snort.
“Then I have something to look forward to when I finally find the right woman,” he said, not elaborating further as I felt my heart shattering for him. Instead, he led us to a small table in the center of the room, which had a few interesting items atop it. I looked around the somewhat barren workshop: I didn’t see a souped-up vehicle standing by.
“The Director has informed me,” he began, “you two are off to South Dakota, and he has asked for certain items made available for your use.”
“Right,” I said. “Where’s my car?”
I had expected a stare, followed by a pair of pursed lips which would have clearly showed his annoyance. It was Parkerhurst 101. Parkerhurst had a method to his madness, especially when it came to handing out my goodies: The tools of the trade came first, then the car. Always. I’ve set my HUD’s chronometer to it. My prompting for him to give me the car first, much like my usual banter and repartee, was an attempt to throw him off his proverbial game.
This time, I instantly realized I wouldn’t get the chance to smirk or giggle or make a condescending remark like normal.
He didn’t even flinch. He simply turned to the table and moved his arms about.
“Your night vision cameras,” Parkerhurst said, and he turned and held up a pair of straps complete with a miniaturized version of a camera attached at the bottom. They had the look of a miner’s head lamp, but I noticed the ear piece and the thin boom microphone attached to the right-hand side. “Bluetooth-enabled, which will connect to your iPhone and send visuals here via a satellite connection. Everything you see, Salt will see, all in beautiful black and white, all in 1080p high definition. You’ll use these headsets to speak with Command.”
I nodded. I didn’t trust myself to speak—at least not yet. In my mind, I heard myself say, “Car? Car? Car?” much in the same way the seagulls in Finding Nemo said “Mine?” but the words didn’t quite reach my lips.
“A light is here, and you turn it on here,” he explained as he indicated a switch on top. “Use the light sparingly, as it will drain your iPhone’s battery.” He handed them to us. “Besides, a light in the forests surrounding the monument might be a dead giveaway to your approach. Your weapons are here.”  The quartermaster gestured to his left, and he moved that way. We turned and let him pass.
Under my HUD, my eyes widened as the weapons he had indicated came into view.
“Whoa,” I said. “It that a McMi—”
“Your McMillan TAC-338A,” Parkerhurst finished for me. “A tactical sniper’s rifle. You may have trained with something similar, or used a variation of it.”
“Yeah, in Boston,” I replied, recalling the fight with Grant Chillings’ goons on Government Center. I found it tough to swallow, my throat slipping into a Death Valley status with every passing second. I’m surprised I had the ability to think, the thoughts of holding such a weapon turning my brain to porridge. The McMillan TAC-338A was a pretty damn good rifle; it was the personal choice of terrorist killers throughout the armed services. Quite possibly, Turner had used one of these prior to extraction. While I preferred a close-combat tool in my Walther P99s for normal, every-day counterterrorism, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want the chance to use this piece of weaponry before I died.
“And if you don’t need a bib, Snapshot,” Parkerhurst said, interrupting my salivating, “I have a few newly-created set of darkness and ether bombs for your use in South Dakota. Your jumpsuit is right there; Agent Messingham, I have some dark clothes for you, as well. Body armor, too.”
I noticed Tom looked positively giddy at Parkerhurst outfitting him; the most he had received before from the CIA, if my memory is correct, was a Walther handgun when we were in Sydney.
And my hand in marriage, of course.
I finally swallowed.
Parkerhurst’s smile felt paternal, in a way. I don’t know why. It just did. It countered my somewhat meek tone as gently as a baby’s coo.
“There isn’t a vehicle ready for your use at the moment, Snapshot. Your mission parameters do not include blowing up Mount Rushmore, I’m afraid.”
Why I frowned, I’ll never figure out.
“There will be a driver from Ellsworth, I believe, who’ll take care of your every need. The commander there is a thirty-something. Epping, I believe. A good man, or so I’ve read. They’ll help you put together your plan.”
I nodded.
“Thanks, Parkerhurst.”
“You’re most welcome, Snapshot. Happy hunting. I’ll have an assistant bring you a box to carry everything, and try to remember to disengage the magazines to the McMillans before you get on the Gulfstream,” he said with a smile, then turned and headed deeper into his sub-basement lair.
As soon as the door closed, I turned to Tom.
“Is it just me, or has Parkerhurst developed a sense of humor?” I asked.
My husband simply shrugged his shoulders.
“For Parkerhurst, that may be as witty as you’ll get, love.”


Andrews Air Force Base
Camp Springs, Maryland
Tuesday, August 16, 10:32 a.m. ET

I spied the powder blue nose of Air Force One off to the side as Tom and I rode into the base in a black-as-night Range Rover, crossing the rolling gray concrete until our escort came to a halt, the Gulfstream waiting for us; I heard the warming engines as we opened the doors. Tom hopped out of the back first, carrying the large box full of Parkerhurst’s toys—we had checked the chamber on each McMillan before removing the magazines—onto our ride. We didn’t have a full military escort; there were no soldiers carrying weapons at the ready nearby. As far as I knew, no one outside of us, Tasha, Salt, Turner, Parkerhurst, Forrister, and Ruoff knew of our mission, and I knew the folks ferrying us from Langley to Andrews and from Andrews to Ellsworth had rigid security clearances. For now, I felt adequately sure the mission would go on uncompromised.
Once we got outside of Ellsworth, though, everything regarding mission security would be up in the air. I held out hope nothing would leak. It wouldn’t be the first time if it had; I wondered if we had executed the woman who had leaked info during my Detroit mission for treason yet.
I smiled Claire the Stewardess’s way as I stepped into the Gulfstream. She didn’t wait for me to tell her to close the doors; she did it automatically.
“Do you two need anything?” she asked as soon as she had shut out the noise of the East Coast from the cabin.
“Do you have a menu? In-flight movie, perhaps?” Tom said sarcastically.
My knuckles stung as I slugged him in the meaty part of his shoulder. He quieted down.
“We should be fine, Claire. Just a couple bottles of water will do; we’ll eat lunch on-base when we get to South Dakota,” I coolly replied as we sat down. She smiled and fetched us our drinks before she headed into the cockpit for the duration of the flight to the Black Hills.
I reached over and grabbed Tom’s hand, and when our eyes met, I gave him a soft grin, and I leaned in for an even softer kiss.
“Here we go again,” I said, just as I heard the engines turn from a dull roar to a heavy whine.
We’d be in the air in moments.


Coming February 2017!

The lead-in to The Peg-Legged Privateer

Coming Soon: The Peg-Legged Privateer: A Tattered Sails Novel. The following is the lead-in, what happens before the book starts. Enjoy!

Approaching Spicer’s Bay

“Put yer backs into it, ye louts! We’re not too far away!” Paulina the Privateer called down to the galley, her hands poised at her hips, her lungs feeling as if she had swallowed sharpened steel; every swallow burned her throat, her thirst for anything spiced and numbing apparent to her mind. “We gots to get the jewels and gold to Weaver, and we gots to do it today. Again, I say, put yer goddess-damned backs into it, or else there’s to be no rum for any of ye, for true this time!”
A muted groan preceded the hard sloshing of vigorously shifting water on either side of the ship. Paulina braced herself for the resulting lurch as Poseidon’s Whelp moved toward its final destination—the dry docks of Spicer’s Bay—of this particular trip northwest across the Sea de Caribe. Satisfied her message had received its rightful due, she grinned; she could have dropped anchor hours ago, but this was the last leg of the trip from the far side of Port Regret, and she would have it made at night. She pivoted to the side and lumbered to the ship’s forepeak.
Stride, clunk. Stride, clunk.
The woman’s smile disappeared as the forged metal sweeping below her right knee met the decking with a hard strike, and dug into the flesh above it as if made of serrated blades. Paulina grunted and continued her walk. As usual, she used a slow, methodical pace, for she did not want to overdo it and end up with a forehead full of slivers; she had done that a few times as she learned how to use the infernal appendage. She yanked warm air in through her nostrils as she willed herself to maintain her speed; hurry was not truly needed—not by her, at least.
And if I didn’t have to implore me men—good for nothin’ louts forced on me person by the Baron, all ‘cause he thinks a simperin’ woman needs handlin’ by supposedly stronger men—to use the extra speed, she thought while wrapping a guide rope around her wrists to aid in pulling her up the steps of this large and truly unserviceable vessel, then I wouldn’t have time to dwell in the irony of me situation, again. O’ course, if me ship had the wind at her back, I’d be able to give these worthless bastards a night o’ rest, and we’d be within spittin’ distance o’ me ship’s berth, me lips wrapped around the mouth o’ a bottle and a pert teat, and me bum in a bed that doesn’t swing and creak.
Paulina felt her ginger-colored hair trickle away from her scalp and tumble into her eyes as soon as she reached the forepeak. Once she had herself steady on her good, hale foot, she brushed her hair out of her line of vision—low as it was anyway. She turned her head right, then left; various shades of purple veiled the eastern horizon, while night still lingered to the west, as dark as sticky pitch. Looking back to the east, she noticed a small sliver of reddish pink had already formed near the edge of the world, but as it was, she still had hours to go until the full sunrise. Nodding, she hoped the sun would pop out faster on this day, if only to give ample light across the watery path which led to her home.
Me second home, she reminded herself. The privateer ambled forward. I don’t remember me first one, supposedly back in the Crownlands. At least that’s what the Baron said when he pickeded me up. She swallowed again; it felt as if she had swallowed fire. She needed rum; even a sip of it would help. I guess this place be as good as any; after all, the rum is good here, and free for that matter, and it will quench me thirst. Aye, me throat hasn’t touched good liquor in days.
Looking across the bow, Paulina saw nothing impeding her or the Whelp as Spicer’s Bay lay not too far to the northwest—they were practically at the mouth of the bay—and she had good reason to believe she had the ship positioned to head into it without having to make any further adjustments. She had plenty of seafaring experience, and she believed her knowledge of the stars would get her anywhere in the Caribe; she knew, though, navigating wasn’t her strong suit, and wished she had a navigator who knew the seas as well as her. She preferred to lead a crew, to put steel to a knave’s neck, to bust arses with her golden appendage, to bed a wench or bed a scallywag—she didn’t care which gender most of the time, although lately she had preferred the touch of a woman—or to tumble naked into a hold full of jewels, if only to feel the cold, hard surfacing poking against her flesh.
And as it just so happens, I has a hold full of jewels and eights and Latin gold below me feet, she thought as she felt her nipples hardening, a gust of warmth slipping under what served as her bodice, and I has a special somethin’ in me cabin for the Baron. Do I has the time for a dip? She frowned as soon as the thought left her mind. Nay. No time. Need to make sure the crew be ready to disembark, and to get the holds emptied as soon as they get the Whelp into the dry dock. I be sure they’ll want their tithes so they can cavort and be lively. She shrugged at that; the pubs of Spicer’s Bay paid favor to the Baron, ran his rum and whiskey, and the Baron did not appreciate more noise than necessary. It wasn’t Port Regret, but then again, there wasn’t much to compare with those salty establishments anyway. She had to allow herself a grin as she thought of her old friend Bettina Brewer, now a barmaid at—
“My captain.”
Paulina turned.
“Aye, Mr. Little.”
“You’ll be happy to know,” Little said, “that we are making good time, despite the lack of wind.” He didn’t have the tone or breeding of a pirate; he had the accent of Londonium, capital of the Crownlands, and he was—allegedly—the Baron’s nephew, his sister’s child, beget from a relationship outside the marriage bed.
Another bastard the bloody Baron has shoved on me without me consent, Paulina thought, one who thinks just ‘cause he has a willy means he be superior to one without a dangler ‘tween the damn twigs.
“Aye, we are. If me calculations be correct, we’re drivin’ right into the heart o’ yer uncle’s household,” she said aloud. Little nodded. “Hopefully we’ll be home soon, and I’ll be able to get somethin’ good to drink, finally, and maybe a wench ‘tween the sheets; there be a wench in yer future, lad?”
She watched as Little’s cheeks morphed from a sun-licked brown to a darker shade. His lips parted as he inhaled before he closed them just as fast: he seemingly held it as he looked at her.
“The Baron has promised me to a lass back home,” Little said. “She’s supposed to be sailing here now, as long as the winds hold.”
“She be a pretty thing?” Paulina asked with a certain, teasing inflection in her voice, all while knowing what the last half of his statement meant; the lass may not get here if the winds die down, and the privateer wondered why the Baron wouldn’t utilize a ship with a set of galley slaves to counter the lack of wind. Shaking the thought away, she wondered if Little’s heart raced with his growing anticipation; even with the thought, she didn’t understand why a person would allow their heart to go on such a radical course. She didn’t believe in the notion of true love, or in the silly, contrived notion of an arranged marriage, either.
She believed in getting her jollies taken care of, whenever she wanted.
Little shrugged.
“Don’t know, to be honest. Never seen the lady before. But she’s from a good family, as I understand it. Has a dowry, as long as none of the seamen steal it from her in the crossing. I also understand she is a delicate thing.” He cleared his throat. “We should be comfortable.”
Even in the thinning darkness, Paulina had no difficulty in determining Little’s desire for a comfortable life; the question of whether or not they would live off her dowry or anything else provided to him by the Baron remained in the ethereal part of her brain. Then again, she had decided, quite quickly in fact, she didn’t care if he wanted to ride the wave of wealth his intended brought to Spicer’s Bay. She only cared what wealth he brought her, and that he made sure the crew followed orders. For a first mate, the thin man served his purposes well; right from the outset, he had taken a solid load of certain commands off her shoulders and delivered them to the crew with a panache she knew she herself would have difficulty in replicating. He demanded just as much respect from the other lads as she did, maybe even more so, and when one has the power to withhold a sailor’s wages with a word to one’s uncle, it usually accorded him a certain edge with an all-male crew.
Still, he had wanted no part of this life, and she knew it; standing next to him several months ago, he had begrudgingly taken on this job for his uncle—the promise of a new bride hadn’t been known to her until now, and must have been a gift given privately—and Paulina, while she tolerated this short-term intrusion, also knew she would take great joy in saying good bye to him for the last time. She knew the reasons for Little’s presence, and all had to do with the vessel and the goods she now hauled: she had already lost two ships to the deep, and she had somehow survived both sinkings and told the tale of each instance in Weaver’s presence. Now, Little was there to make sure she did things right, and if things went awry, to report her failings back to the Baron via a dinghy hanging off the stern.
He didn’t belong on a ship, but she also knew his relation to the Baron kept him alive. If it wasn’t for Weaver, Little would have found himself dumped overboard, or tied to a post on some tiny, uncharted island to the southeast of Port Regret, the birds feasting on his eyes.
The thought made Paulina smirk.
She let the thought drown as she swung her left foot around to her help face him.
“Good. Ye deserve to be comfortable, lad.”
“Are you just saying that because of who—”
“Nay,” Paulina countered; she noticed the slight angles his eyebrows now made, and saw quite plainly his frustration at the way some treated him. “I’m not sayin’ that ‘cause ye be the Baron’s sister’s whelp; ye don’t choose who ye be related to. I say that ‘cause I truly believe it. E’ryone deserves to be comfortable in whatever life they choose.”
“Even you, captain?”
She nodded.
“Aye. This is where I’m comfortable. I been devoted to the sea and to the goddess Amphitrite for over a decade or so, lad. This,” she said, running her hands along the ropes, “this be where I breathe best.”
Little seemingly accepted her line of bullshit; she watched as his jaw had turned rigid before he gave a stiff nod, his nose barely moving. He took a deep breath and looked out over the Caribe. Paulina heard displacement along the water’s edge; they were still moving forward, but the front looked almost glass-like.
“A calm night,” he observed.
“Aye. We be lucky we be in the Caribe and not the Norte Atlantis, comin’ down from the Crownlands.”
Little swallowed.
“The ice.”
Paulina heard the trepidation settling on his heart.
“Ye didn’t come down that way, aye?”
Little gave a little shake; Paulina thought his powdered wig would fly off and land in the water.
“No; when the Baron called for us, he explicitly wanted us to take a more circuitous route to avoid the ice floes.”
“So ye traveled due south and came from the east,” Paulina determined; Little nodded. “And ye missed the pirates?”
He nodded again.
“When you have your cannons loaded and readied at all times, and you have two other boats as your guard, the pirates know to keep their distance.”
Paulina wanted to snort, but she held it in. There were two pirates, she knew, two rather foolhardy, pig-headed associates—and by calling them associates raised their standing by all of half a notch in her eyes—who wouldn’t have let a silly thing like an escort ship, or two of them, stand in their way of trying to collect booty and plunder. She prayed to Amphitrite they would make the attempt, if only to give her a happy thought once in a while.
Still, she didn’t want to argue with the Baron’s representative.
“O’ course. O’ course, lad.”
“Do you think I should—” Little cut himself off, stopping short.
Paulina blinked.
“Should ye… what?”
“Catch a little sleep? Everything seems fine up here,” Little said, turning his head. “It seems the men have everything under control.”
Aye, they do, Paulina thought. They always do, even though they’d rather think with the hangin’ brains most o’ the time.
“It’s none o’ me affair if ye want some kip, lad. Just will throw off yer cycle, whatever the bloody hell that means. Some cuntish fellow in Port Regret told me ‘bout that ‘bout a year ago, ‘fore I slit his throat for talkin’ rubbish.” She watched as he stiffened at the last, until she finally barked a laugh at his expense. “I not be serious, Mr. Little. I not be that bloody hasty.”
Even as she watched Little sway where he stood, she knew her last was a falsehood: she had killed the man for what she called being too smart, doing so in the same manner she had described before she then dropped his body somewhere along the backroads—the paths—of Blackmoon Island. She suppressed her grin at the memory, especially with Little still standing here; she didn’t want to lead him on to her fib.
“I just wanted to check in and make sure it was fine to sleep,” he said.
Paulina gave him her leave with a nod.
Still, he made no effort to leave her side, and Paulina gave him a few furtive, sidelong looks as the tangible awkwardness of the moment festered in the space between them. Silence, with the exception of the rowing, lingered on the forepeak.
Slight gurgling slurps over to starboard met the privateer’s ears a few minutes later, and she immediately felt the tiny hairs on the back of her neck prickle, all while nervous energy surged from her heart. Even as she felt a vicious, cold sweat lathering her brow which coupled a shiver wriggling up her spine, a light, burning tingle from the trinket around her neck—a trident pendant she wore in her ever-lasting devotion to the goddess—gave her limbs and torso enough motion to pull herself away from the spot. She turned her head only a few millimeters, and she noticed Little still standing there; he elicited no reaction to the sucking, which now grew louder—and closer.
“Mr. Little, do ye hear that?”
“Hear what?” he replied, just as a ghostly shadow swung up from the starboard side. Paulina gasped at once, but Little didn’t notice; she felt the blood stampede away from her face, the muscles and jaw not responding to her mental commands. She had wanted to speak, to say something in warning, but her lips, though open, couldn’t conjure words; her throat burned. “I can’t hear anything when I have such a wonderful vi—argh!”
Little jerked, his reply cut short as what looked like a pockmarked tentacle slashed from over his right shoulder and grabbed him by the face, the slimy flesh clamping down across his mouth with a vicious strike. She watched as his eyebrows shot toward his hairline all while the tentacle tensed and flexed around his mouth and face, the markings along its length seemingly winking at her, until she heard the undeniable, sickening crunch of bone shattering mere heartbeats later. She winced and jerked backward, while his body slouched, as if his legs gave way underneath him. The tentacle of whatever had grabbed her first mate’s now lifeless corpse lifted the body and flung him backward off the starboard bow as if he were merely refuse instead of a living, breathing person.
She didn’t even try to wager a guess as to how far he flew; even with her chest slowly aching thanks to her rapid heartbeat, she hadn’t heard a resounding splash even after thirty beats had elapsed. Paulina grit her teeth as the tentacle slipped away and out of sight for the time being—but she knew deep in her heart they were no longer safe.
Safe from pirates, yes. No pirate—not even those two dunderheads, wherever they were now—would come near her.
Safe from the creatures of the deep, no.
And even though she didn’t want to vocalize it, to give it truth, she had a good idea what had just killed Little—and more than likely postponed the incoming lass’s nuptials until Weaver found her a suitable replacement for a husband.
The thought of this particular beasty anywhere near Spicer’s Bay, though, froze her down to her five remaining toes.
Well, we’re right and truly fecked now, aren’t we? she thought.
“Oy, ye lot!” she called, finding her voice finally pried from her throat. “Get the guns! Avast me feckers, and get to firin’!”
“At what?” one called from near the mizzen mast.
The sound of planks snapping off the starboard bow, the screams of the galley slaves, and the sudden tilt of the deck to starboard told Paulina one thing: the creature had just created a massive breach in the Whelp’s hull. Adding it up quickly in her mind told her the third ship the Baron had given her would soon founder. It was a mathematical certainty, even though she barely knew her numbers.
“At that,” she said, raising her voice. “Get on it, lads. Get the muskets and plenty o’ buckshot to kill whatever the feck it is!”
The lads rushed about immediately, a little more urgency behind their steps, their running either helped or hindered depending on which side of the ship they stood. Yells permeated the gloaming around them, yet those screams, for reasons she didn’t quite understand, came through her ear canal at a slightly lower pitch than half a heartbeat earlier: she suddenly felt warm—warmer than normal, she noticed, for the Caribe—but all of the sweat which had built during Little’s untimely demise seemed to curiously dissipate even as the heat spread across her chest. Her heart still thundered away, but an inexplicable utter calm had passed over her.
Get the trinket, she heard in her mind. The important trinket. Do it now, before it’s too late. You have no weapon, you are useless in a fight. Get off the ship now! Do it before you go down!
The voice had an ethereal quality to it, she immediately noted, one with such lilt and resonance to its substance—one she dared not ignore. Blinking, she nodded to herself and trudged down the stairs, the metal jabbing into the flesh underneath her right knee.
The thick aroma of gunpowder quickly settled over the heads of her men, but she sniffed a trickle of it as she lumbered across the deck. She grunted the pain away as her nostrils flared in her everlasting anguish. Still, her eyes remained focused on a door—the door to her cabin—as she walked closer. More yells for more guns came, and she saw several of her men, naked save their night shirts, pour out of the ship’s guts, cold muskets in their hands. They hurried to the starboard side; out the corner of her eye, she saw them nod as they acknowledged an order—“Fire into the sea, ya scrubs!”—before they all pointed their weapons toward the water.
Another layer of cordite and gunpowder smoke rose into the night, the muskets firing as one.
Two tentacles shot out from the Caribe’s face in an instant, jerking two of the sailors off their feet and pulling them overboard; their high-pitched screams died with a resounding splash and gurgle. Another pair of tentacles sprang over the starboard side in the heartbeat before the splash and wrapped around the masts, freezing Paulina in place just before the beast followed, appearing over the ship’s edge with the mightiest roar the privateer ever recalled hearing. Her jaw tumbled as she caught sight of the creature, one with the ovoid head of a tremendously-sized shark but the body and soul of an octopus. The Lusca hadn’t seen who had shot at it, but it didn’t truly matter: Paulina caught sight of several rows of sharp, triangular teeth in its gaping maw, and for the second time in a few minutes, felt fear flooding her to the point where her bowels had turned from solid to water in mere seconds.
Someone’s goin’ to die on those teeth tonight, she thought, her face trembling, her arse clenching tight under her breeches. The sailors, she took note, quickly pushed whatever fear they felt aside and raised their muskets toward what served as the beast’s chin as she turned and moved as fast as her fake appendage allowed; she heard the partially-muted gunshots, then heard the buckshot tinkle off the planks. She paused and turned her head toward the beast again; the Lusca didn’t have a single mark on it. She shook her head in disbelief, then recalled her earlier thought about dying. It can’t be me. No, Amphitrite, it can’t be me.
“Captain,” a sailor said as he approached; she saw his hair had matted against his scalp. Whether it was nervous sweat or blood from a wound, she couldn’t tell; in all honesty, she couldn’t have cared less. “It’s a Lusca, damn it. A Lusca! Our weapons be no match against—”
“I know,” she interrupted, pushing her way past. “Do what ye can to slow the fecker down. And I’ll do what I can to remember yer sacrifices.”
She didn’t look back as she limped away, dooming her crew to whatever fate—and she had the feeling she knew it—lay in store for them.
She snorted anyway.
They be dumb men anyway, the privateer thought as she trudged against the steep incline to starboard. Worthless pieces of shite men.
Paulina heard another round of buckshot go off followed by a squeal; she didn’t stop to see if it affected the Lusca in any deep way. Its unnatural wail told her they had hurt it, but she didn’t hear a resounding splash and cheer.
She drew closer to her cabin, and as she did she looked toward the well leading to the galley; the fact none had tried to make their way to safety nor had she heard any pleas for help told her all she needed to know. She didn’t let a sigh escape her; they were already dead, drowning from the initial ramming.
That’ll teach me to chain ‘em down, she thought. Won’t do that again, for true.
Paulina flung the cabin door open, stepping in and closing out the tumult. Exhaling hard, she ambled over to where she kept the valuable possessions—maps, trinkets, a gold necklace once worn by her mother; she had worn it the night she had snuck up to the deck and watched the men work, the night they hit rocks and tore a hole right in the bow, right above her parents’ cabin—and ripped the cabinet door away from the rest of it. She let her eyes dangle over the necklace for a moment and grunted. She grabbed it and another item in the cabinet, a golden chalice which sparkled in the dim candlelight. It was the prize the Baron had wanted most of all; there was no way to save the rest of her plunder in time, especially with a beast gnawing on her crew. She snatched the chalice up as well as a burlap sack; it would do for the voyage deep into the bay proper.
As she turned with another grunt, she noticed the pitch of the Whelp had grown deeper to starboard; so deep in fact that she watched helplessly as the candle slid off her desk in the corner and tumbled to the floor. The flame caught instantly against the floor, turning the spot black and spreading to the nearest wall.
She didn’t let her eyes widen as she turned on the spot with her false foot and exited her cabin for the last time, her precious trinkets in hand, saved from turning to ash. Paulina limped away, taking several strides before turning to the left. She grumbled through gnashed teeth as she plodded up the steps one at a time. She slipped the chalice into the bag.
“Get to the dinghy,” she muttered. “Get to the damned dinghy. This be why Little had the feckin’ thing here, for an emergency escape. Get to the dinghy, and we’ll be away from here right quick.”
She let a long, throaty croak emerge as soon as she reached the stern deck, then resumed her walk, the chalice clutched in her left; the necklace in her right. She didn’t look back when she heard a roar and a resounding crack; she flinched, though, at the crack, the mizzen mast snapping at what she figured came as a result of the Lusca’s mighty tugging.
Then, with her hearing amplified, she heard the prayers of her men as she felt her tears welling, each one more chilling than the last.
“Amphitrite, mighty Amphi-ahhhhhhhh!” The prayer had ended with a sickening crunch; she heard the telltale sounds of something liquid spraying against the decking.
Her upper lip flared; she felt grief welling in her chest. She pushed it aside with a thought and stepped closer to the stern.
“Save us, Amphitrite, don’t let us die here in the sea; my family, my family…”
Even from thirty feet away, the privateer heard heavy flatulence as the man’s bowels loosened on deck. She swallowed, thanking the goddess she stood no closer; she feared she would wrinkle her nose more now than she ever had in his presence.
Paulina recognized the last; it was the scream of her cook, one who had come up with the others, armed and ready to defend the sinking Whelp. He made a good stew; now he was Lusca chow.
Without looking at the devastation, she bade them all a heartless adieu as she finally reached the davits—only to find the dinghy wasn’t in its place. Someone had already lowered it; even over the calamity behind her, she heard oars dipping in the water somewhere off to the starboard-stern corner, safe from the Lusca’s flailings. She drove the meaty slab of her palm against the wood; she winced as she felt slivers poking her.
“Damn it, ye cunt, whoever ye be,” she said, albeit not letting her voice rise any further than her own hearing; she looked behind her and noticed no one else heard her, for the Lusca owned their attentions. Beyond them, the bow had already dropped below the surface, the Caribe encroaching the deck with its might, crawling ever faster as it dragged the Whelp toward the dirty depths of the Locker.
Paulina grimaced. Her transportation options cut short, she only had one choice now. It was either swim and live, or sink and die.
She had to swim for it.
Aye, she thought, it be the only way to save meself and the trinket for the Baron, and he’ll want to hear ‘bout all this. Aye, he will.
Swallowing her fear, she slipped the golden necklace into her pocket and set the burlap-covered chalice on the edge; it stayed there, even with the pitch of the Whelp growing deeper. She reached down and yanked the false foot off her right leg; she hopped as gracefully as possible in place on her left. The pain in the stub beneath her knee, she felt, had dissipated. Relief washed over her.
Put the foot on your back, my servant, the voice whispered, and I will not let it go. Trust in your Goddess.
Steadying herself against the stern’s sidewall, Paulina did as the voice asked: she hefted the foot and slung it across her back. Warmth immediately spread across her breasts, wrapping around her lattisimus. She lurched forward an inch or two as she felt the foot bond to her back. Her flesh tingled as the magic took hold.
“Wee, that be somethin’ I didn’t expect,” she said, before she scooped the burlap sack up and hefted herself up and over the stern in one smooth motion. She inhaled deeply as the distance between the edge and water disappeared in a blur.
Paulina tried to hold in her groan as she hit the water shoulder-first; not only that, her left knee scraped against the stern on the way down. Opening her eyes, water had flooded her vision; she didn’t panic, though, instead letting her body go light. She rose to the surface almost at once; she grabbed the sack tighter against her bosom.
Air nibbled at her face with tiny teeth, and she gasped as she came up for air. She looked around and saw the stern next to her; she kicked away from it twice, sending two footfulls of water a few seconds apart. Pale gray smoke, she noticed, rose into the air from the ship proper near her; the fire in her cabin had grown.
Still, though, the sounds of sailor screams had died off, Paulina noted as she swam away from the doomed ship; if that was true, then the entirety of her crew had perished.
Then, without any warning, she watched as the Lusca’s tentacles wrapped around the port side; with a tremendous tug, the Whelp, broken, gave a grunt just as the beast pulled it underneath the surface of the Caribe, doing so at a much faster rate than nature intended.
Exhaling, Paulina felt her flesh ripple as the ship disappeared.
Then, she felt her body tense without warning. She felt water rushing past her only a few seconds later, the presence pausing to seemingly look her up and down; she felt its eyes lingering over her leg, a tasty morsel, and she had to close her eyes as she moved it to keep herself afloat. She tried to form words in her subconscious, to be like the men on the Whelp’s decks as they prayed for Amphitrite to protect them, but no words, no prayers, came to mind. She felt sure it would take a nibble out of her and leave her a bobbing, bleeding corpse in the Caribe—but the Lusca, for some strange reason, didn’t even make a move for her. It soon swam under her and departed, heading off toward the west and even warmer water.
Gulping in air, she let her bladder release into the sea, not worrying for catcalls and embarrassment any longer.
She grunted.
“Oh, for feck’s sake, I’ve got to finish the damned job now,” she muttered as she began half-swimming toward the bay proper, her left arm pushing the water behind her.