Eight

 

The whaleboat crew lounge at a long table by the window out of Antone’s sight. They’ve had a head-start. Corvo called for three bottles of Aguardente, clapping down a bright silver dollar on the bar, as soon as they arrived. Two bottles down. Three of Corvo’s boys sprawl with their heads against the stone wall. In a ragged line across from them three more slump across the table.

Corvo sits relaxed in the corner, savoring the bite of the harsh, raw brandy. A twisted cheroot clamped in his teeth. A faint smile on his lips. He takes the scene in through half-closed eyelids. He’s curious about Antone, Know who he is. In the mate’s boat…. The smoke-haze calls for rumination, Why the party?

If he knew I was watching him…, Corvo smiles.

A pair of old men wander away from the bar to lean against the wall, “Era tão bela…” Corvo perks up, My favorite words: She was so beautiful….

He pieces together some of their conversation, Something to do with Antone. His past. His eyes roll back, Oh what would I have done to Antone’s bela!

The old man goes on, “O que pena… A filha… What a shame… The daughter…” Shaking their heads.

Corvo turns. A venomous, predatory look flashes across his face. His studied calm broken. The same look he turns on a whale, closing-in harpoon raised. His mask slips back into place, Of course. A daughter. Antone’s old sweetheart would be an old hag by now, but a daughter….

His? Doesn’t matter! He turns a languid nod at the old gents, “Boa tarde.”

They chime reflexively, “Good afternoon.” Then stiffen, What does this rapazão, this lunk, want from us?  They turn in towards each other, attempting to shut-out a shameless eavesdropper. Corvo lowers his chair onto its four legs. Rises to his feet, stretching. In response to the quizzical look of one of his stupefied cronies he taps the front of his trousers. Tosses his head in the direction of the back door. The sailor nods, “Hmmm…” Should go for a piss too… So sleepy….

Corvo pushes past a knot of men gathered around Antone, heading for a low doorway on the far side of the bar. He pricks his ears to glean what he can. His way blocked; he shoves two men aside, pushing through their conversation with enough swagger to signal disrespect. He parts a tattered bead-curtain, stepping out into a small courtyard.

Tendrils of grape vine hang from an arbor, dropping dappled shade onto muddy ground. Shriveled clusters of dark, left-over grapes hang at eye level. Undoing two buttons, his eyes seek out a suitable corner, enjoying the promise of release, “Ah…” His grin broadens. He relishes the weight of his member in his hand. Looking around from under lowered lids, he muses, Too bad there’s no one here to see.

An emerald lizard flicks across the damp wall at eye-level, burrowing between mossy stones. He shakes off. Tilts his head back, taking in the brilliant blue, rain-washed sky. Pushes himself back into his pants. Buttons his trousers with a curious bend and hitch at his waist. Takes a little half-step and a hop. Turning to his right he notices a broken-down wooden gate, An alley. A glint off an upstairs window catches his eye. He smiles and nods. A woman turns away. Her form contorted by rippled glass. The young bar-boy tugging at her sleeve.

Corvo always expects he’ll find whatever he’s looking for, Always do. Turning reflexively from the bright sunlight of the open square, he ducks down the alley between old stone walls. Tops studded with shards of broken glass. At the next corner he turns left. Abruptly, A wager. Patchy cobblestones dome the middle of the lane. A deep gutter runs along one side, Sewage. He veers away.

Houses push against the street on either side. A few have low second-stories tucked under chipped, lichen-spotted, orange roof-tiles. Thick walls plastered in faded ocher and pink. Heavily framed wood doors pierced by narrow slits defended by forged-iron grilles covered in thick, chipped paint. Few windows front the street. Shuttered or veiled by heavy, embroidered curtains.

A sleek black cat sits on a threshold, leaning against warm stone soaking in a shaft of sunlight. Yellow eyes look right through Corvo. As he approaches it drops into a belly crawl and slips into the gutter, scuttling to spring onto an open windowsill and slink inside.

Corvo follows him with his eyes. Seeing the cat’s stones, the winking asterisk of its sphincter, makes him smile. It drops out of view with a final flourish of its sable tail.

Corvo chuckles under his breath, “Sabes fazer uma entrada! You know how to make an entrance!”

“Well, so do I!” Corvo ambles down the street hugging the shady-side. His patent-leather holiday pumps fall one ahead of the other along the gutter’s uneven rim. Bright white hose caress shapely calves. Abbreviated cuffs fall fashionably just below the knee.

His shoulder bumps the whitewash. He turns to brush lime off his sleeve. Inspecting his short, tight black jacket with a frown.

Stepping ahead a few paces, a door opens with a loud clank, the creak of hinges.

He runs straight into a slight figure attempting an abrupt exit, “Ai!”

Feigning concern, he positions his hands to take full advantage of this opportunity. Relishing his brush against a shapely figure.

She reacts with a voiceless expulsion of air, “Hugh…”

A young woman, clad in black from head to foot, stares up at him.

His palms cup a curving breast and swelling hip.

He slowly backs away. Apologizing with an exaggerated bow, “Desculpa me! A onde vai a menina em tanta pressa? Excuse me. Where is the little lady going in such a hurry?”

His tone drips with condescension. His eyes seek out hers, A serpent charming my prey.

She flushes beneath her headscarf. Looks upward, questioning this stranger.

Convinced she’s intrigued by his irresistible charm he ignores her puzzled look. Shamed by his liberties. The memory of his touch impressed on her flesh.

He turns to stand at her side, “So Corvo, Arpoador de Capitão Michaels, no Pescador de Baleia, ’Harmonia.” He accompanies his introduction with a deep, formal bow. “I’m Corvo, Harpooner for Captain Michaels, on the whaler Harmony.” He pronounces the names, “Mi-kael-sh,” and “AR-mon-e-ah.”

Such titles cannot fail to impress!

She remembers herself. Her good manners take over. Eyes lowered, “Senhor Corvo, eu sou, Maria das Flores Fonseca da Guerra…” Automatically adding, “Prazeres… Pleased to meet you…” Her voice trails off.

She has never spoken to a complete stranger before, A young woman should not speak with a strange man on the street. Her awkward situation compounded by her hurry…, “Perdão Senhor, eu tenho que passar…” She looks beyond his elbow in the direction from which he came, “… I need to pass…”

Corvo leans to his left, rising out of a deep bow. He follows her gaze down the street, “Mas qual e a tua pressa esta tarde tão bonita?” He says with a smirk, How truly beautiful this Maria of the Flowers!  “What’s your hurry on this lovely afternoon?”

I have no time for this! Grandfather sent word. I must hurry to the square. “E  uma coisa importante… It’s important.”

“Com permissão!” He gestures for her to pass. Falls in lock-step at her side.

She walks ahead, What should I do? Eyes forward. Her feet oddly unsteady.

*

Antone is drunk, Drunk or tired. Who cares? Need some air. The men crowding the taverna have settled in to enjoy the festa’s afterglow in silence. Some have left, wondering how to get back into the swing of their interrupted day. Heads foggy with drink and strangely exhausted by the hard work of dredging up vague memories of this stranger with a local name.

Antone’s uncle naps in a chair. With a quick nod and a thin smile Antone excuses himself from his newfound old friends.

Leaving by the back way he relieves himself in the courtyard. Greeted by a sharp, ammonia smell, Not the first. A few of Harmony’s sailors lean against a sunny wall, napping in a heap. The afternoon wears heavily on everyone, Hours to go until sunset.

Antone wanders towards a bench located beneath a broad-crowned chestnut tree on the far side of the little square, facing the small, stone church.

He hunkers down, trying to get comfortable. Settles in for a nap. Preoccupied, Not so much what they say… People skirted certain topics. He did not push for clarification. His dread of his past has closed in on him again. His customary blanket.

Did I sleep? He sits up with a start at the memory of a sound cutting through his torpor. He raises his head, Nothing looks different. The taverna dozes in the late afternoon light behind him. Wisps of a ragged tune sung off-key roll across on the breeze.

The square stands empty. Shadows lengthen.

Annoyed at waking, his aches and pains make their presence felt: back, shoulders, legs. He debates whether to get up and start down the road to the boat ramp or settle back and try for another little nap.

A muffled, “Ai!”

Fully awake he turns to the church, Inside?

“AI!”

A woman?

Jogging for the door, Silence.

He reaches the shaded entrance in a few quick steps. The great door is shut. Its little Judas-gate swings ajar, Can’t see. Garbled sounds echo from the interior. A scuffle. Shoes scrape across a stone floor. Rough breathing. Two? A man and a woman? Grunts, quick intakes of breath.

He stops just outside, careful to be quiet as he climbs the few steps to the door.

His eyes adjust to the dimness inside. A shaft of multicolored light splashes across bare flags, painting part of a side wall in an ethereal glow from a small, stained-glass window above the door. He can see the altar. A low, rectangular stone. A large crucifix at its center, Just as I remember.

A loud, Bang! to his left, From the back of the church. Just out of sight.

A foot kicks against a pew, Boom!

Another cry. Muffled, Not by distance.

Inching forward across the threshold he turns to his left to face whatever is inside.

Corvo. Who else could it be? In his lean foppery. A young woman pressed to his chest.

Her face hidden by a shawl. Corvo’s hand clasped over her mouth.

He sees Antone. They stare at each other through sparkling dust motes dancing in a strong shaft of light.

Corvo smiles. Stops, holding the girl still with all his strength.

Noting a change, she stops struggling and looks up at Corvo.

Antone sizes him up. Settles on his haunches ready to spring or defend.
Her shawl drops away. Her face comes into view. Corvo’s hand moves to her throat.

Antone freezes, Maria? He shakes his head to clear this phantom. Rises out of his fighter’s stance. Lost in shock and surprise. Her name forms on his lips, “Maria?”

He remembers to put breath behind the word. Expel it across the room. He calls out, “Maria!”

She recognizes her name; but not the man, Will he help me? Why does he just stand there?

Corvo takes advantage of Antone’s confusion. Tightening his grip around her waist he reaches for his knife.

Antone’s instincts take over. He pulls out his knife. Shrugs off his jacket, twirling it around his arm. Squats, focusing all his attention on the glint off Corvo’s blade.

Corvo weighs his options, Hold onto the girl? Threaten her? Or, push her away so I have room to maneuver.

He sends her sprawling, shoving her between himself and Antone.

She loses her balance. Falls. Arms outstretched.

Antone steps to his right. Reaches for her with his free hand to guide her around him and away from danger.

He takes his eye off Corvo. Amazed at her touch, Maria in the flesh!

Corvo shoved her towards the altar, away from the door. Antone has to shift to clear his knife-side.

Corvo sees his chance.

Antone takes one last look at Maria, Safe.

He lunges at Corvo. Corvo has misjudged the gap. Antone blocks the doorway and his freedom.

Antone springs after him. Knife held low. It enters Corvo’s side.

Searing pain. Corvo’s legs give out. He falls, skidding to the ground. His far-hand reaches for the door-frame. He drops his knife. The pain so sharp he cannot see. Glare from outside fills his eyes.

Antone is on him. Driving his knee into his side, he pins him to the floor. Corvo’s knife clatters across cold stones. Antone’s knife at his throat. Corvo goes limp.

Antone hesitates.

Never killed a man like this.

Breathing hard, his muscles leaden.

The sound of a movement behind brings him back to full alert. Tightening his hold on Corvo, he swings around to ward off any other attacker.

The girl. He spins around again. Alert to any new threat. Scans the church between deep, hard breaths. Corvo lies limp beneath him.

She blanches. Steps towards him, pleading in her eyes.

Antone settles his weight onto Corvo like a hawk protecting its kill. A final, flat exhalation rises from the body beneath him. Antone finds his balance. Drops his knife to his side. Stands awkwardly. Staggers back a few steps.

The girl stands to the side. She has never known such violence. She had been afraid for her life. Now she’s overcome with pity for this wounded man. A dark, glistening pool spreads across dry stone. A carnation-bloom widens across his shirt. Its tails torn from his waistband. She’s afraid of this man who has done this, To defend me?

Antone is drained. Numb, Who is she?

*

The bar boy crossed the square on another errand for the tavernista. Hearing a noise from the church, he crouches just outside the door, A fight! He’s on the verge of falling away backwards to escape as a sailor rushes the door. He watches the big man, The one everyone made such a fuss over in the taverna, knife the other one, sending him sprawling to the ground.

The boy steadies himself. His cheek against cool stone, willing himself small and invisible. He works at controlling his breath, Don’t make any noise.
Unable to resist he peeks inside, Maria. Herculano’s granddaughter.
Herculano called this man sobrinho, nephew. Maria’s uncle?

Her parents died. It’s all vague. Before I was born.

Lot’s of kids lose their parents. Oh, Mae…. The tavernista’s wife took me in? No! Made me their servant!

Quiet in the church. No one in the square.

Should I shout, “ASSASSINO!” Awaken the village? Watch the uproar unfold. Be a hero?

He sits down. His back against the wall, Maria. Always kind to me. A smile. Always asks, “Por favor.”

I always answer, “Obrigado. Thank you.” Not many bother to even look at me when they bark their orders.

She’s pretty.

In trouble.

How can I help her?

Senhor Herculano. In the taverna. He’ll know what to do.

Rising carefully, he backs silently away from the door. Bolting across the square, his arms pumping, apron flapping.

Antone and Maria hear his footfalls.

She settles onto her haunches, her back against a pew.

Antone leans over Corvo, Morto.

His body seems smaller to her, Deflated. His face squashed against the stone floor. Pale gray creeping into his warm, dark complexion. Arms splayed out. Legs tangled under his torso.

*

Sunset. The crew gathered at the ramp. Sailors slouching, pacing, cranky, deeply hung-over. Everyone’s quiet. Corvo’s gang peeved over his absence. Turning to look up the road every few minutes to see if he’s coming.

Antone stands apart. Elbows resting on a canoa. A small knot of relations huddle protectively around him in silence.

In a shed behind the church Corvo’s body is wrapped in canvas. Tied to a weight, Once it’s dark we to toss him off a cliff into the sea.

The captain returns with Jackson and Perry. Impatient to get away. Annoyed by Corvo’s absence, Bastard! Not surprised. He’ll soon find another whaler to grab him up when he’s ready to go back to sea.

Fresh out of New Bedford. Haven’t lanced a fish. No share for him to lose. Free room and board for a month! Bastard.

Corvo’s clique feel betrayed. But not surprised, Corvo’s fun. A good harpooner. Lucky. Good luck rubs off!

Doesn’t care about us. Left without a word.

Well, duty calls.

The last light fades in the West. Harmony sets a course to the South. Pico fades, blending into deep, purple clouds. Its dark mass eroded into darkness, engulfed by a black sea.

 

Continue…

 

 

 

 

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