"'Quinn,' they say, 'since Ireland's staying neutral in this, many take it that some Irishmen are not. If a man with your background decided to slip the Nazis a few favors no one would be surprised, especially them. And if we told you what secrets to slip it could be to our advantage.'
" 'No thanks,' I says. 'I'm serving where I am.'
"I'd found my sea home, Jamie; you know what I'm talking about. And the cargo ships were in every bit as much danger as the battleships, only we had no weapons. I was doing as much or more duty than I owed.
" 'You've got nothing on me,' I says, 'so I'll be on my merry way.'
"They could have had many things on me, of course, but I was slippery at birth, the midwife couldn't hold me, as my poor mother used to say."
Kell took another drink.
"'Yes,' they says, 'but Kevin and Tim have been naughty lads, sorry to say, we've had to lock them up. If you were to change your mind about helping us, we might change ours about how long they stay there.'
"Well, my heart sank at that, Jamie. I'd been planning to get them berths with me, I'd already made a few contacts, I was just waiting for them to come of age—"
"These were your brothers, Kell?"
"Yes. Had three—for many years it seemed strange to me not to have a snotty wee bro underneath my feet—
"Anyway, I never had much hope for Kevin. A British gaol is no place to nurse bad lungs, and his were half gone then ... but Tim was tough as leather, just turned fifteen, I thought perhaps...
"They also had a nice piece of leverage on my old pal Greg, our dads were in cahoots together ..." Kell sipped some more.
"The things Greg and I were asked to do ... if we had to kill, we didn't kill in the heat of battle. I hope you never know what it's like, being asked to do things like that, and come home to find you're still scum to the country who asked you to do them ... but I've never regretted it. You can't regret experience. It got me out of Ireland, for one thing. Gave me an education— not a book education, but I learned what I was good at. Finding people's weak points, how much to press those weak points, how to apply a leverage to a fraction. Making contacts—I made a lot of contacts, Jamie. It's a wise thing to be generous at the right times. There's time to give as well as take. The taking is better for it, after. People remember their debts."
"That's for goddamn sure," Jamie said. He wouldn't be in this mess now, except for owing Kell. It ticked him off, thinking Kell would use him like he'd use anyone else—though he'd known it all along.
"Well, I was luckier than some. The gift I discovered has proved very useful since. Others found they had a talent for killing and no one would give them a medal for it after. Although it can still be quite useful."
Jamie suddenly thought of Gregory—a harebrained young scamp, Kell said, and now he, too, had a useful gift.
Jamie looked at his face in the moonlight. He rarely saw Kell look his age. And rarely saw him drunk, though he often saw him drink.
"So what happened to your brothers?" Kell was quiet for a few minutes.
"They're all dead now. I was the only one who lived past five-and-twenty. And I the eldest... Kevin died in prison. Tim was beat to death by the guards. But it took three of them and they had to cuff him first—
"You know, the first time I saw you, Jamie, I was strongly reminded of Tim. Perhaps because you were fighting. It was one of his favorite pastimes, too. You're really nothing alike, though.... You're sunny enough if people let you alone. No, truly, I love you for your own sake, Jamie."
Jamie was forced into a grin. Then he said, "You said three, Kell?"
"Yes. Michael tried to walk home from the pub in a blizzard. A sweet lad, but always muddled, especially after what happened to Kevin and Tim ...
"If it's all the same to you we'll not bring it up again. It's hard to go on with lines tuggin' at your heart, best to cut loose and be free to sail.... I do miss Kevin though. He was a grand talker, Jamie. I can't hold a candle to poor Kevin...."
Jamie suddenly thought: What we're doing, it's getting to Kell, too. It's making him remember stuff. It's time to quit; he needs to more than I do.
"Well, Jamie, I came up here to relieve you. You'd best be getting back."
"OF Frozen Dick would have your balls, old pal or not, he found you on watch in this shape. Go sleep it off. I'll take your watch, too. Nothin' better to do."
Gregory did run a tight ship, Jamie had to give him that.
"Now, Jamie," Kell paused, surprised. "I do believe you're right, Jamie, I am drunk. I had no notion ..."
He hugged Jamie's shoulders. "This is the last run, boy, I promise. Will you listen to me about Greg, though, lad?"
He gave Jamie a fierce shake, half affection, half warning. "Yeah," Jamie said. "Sure."
There was a storm coming up. And Jamie knew any delay getting this damn boat into the damned port and getting rid of this goddamn fucking cargo would cause his nerves to snap.
What if some of the cargo came loose? What if they got into serious trouble at sea?
Ol' First Mate Gregory would sink the ship before he'd let someone find out what she carried. His guys weren't just ready to kill, they were plenty ready to die.
If this endless run ever got over with, Jamie was through. He'd have enough money for once; he wouldn't owe Kell anything.
He was going to New Orleans, with Kell or without him.
Jamie stood at the railing, smoking, wrapped up in his rain slicker. He'd been busy battening for an hour. The sea was starting to roll, the wind getting worse, the rain starting to fall hard. Soon he'd have to go in.
Jamie hated storms, having to go below, getting bounced all over your bunk, needing a smoke and no way to have one.
It had to be very, very bad before Jamie would get seasick.
"Jamie!" Steve ran up, grasping the slippery rails, panting for breath. He hadn't even put his slicker on. "Jamie, I just found ..."
Jamie wasn't ready.
"Shut the fuck up!" he said desperately. Steve read the knowledge in his eyes.
"But Jamie," he said, "don't you know what they'll use those guns for?"
"You didn't see anything! You got that?"
"It's not war, Jamie, they use them to murder!"
"For God's sake, Steve, shut the fuck up!"
"Well, lads."—Gregory joined them—"looks like a rough time ahead."
Swiftly he clamped a hand over Steve's mouth, drove the knife in twice, once in each lung with a twist, hoisted him overboard.
Steve didn't have time to bleed. He barely made a splash as he disappeared soundlessly in the rough water. Gone.
Jamie's heart stood still. Then slowly he straightened, turned. "It's a sad thing, to lose a man in a storm, but once in a while we do," said Gregory.
Jamie met his steel-eyed glance.
"For God and country, Jamie," Greg's voice raised against the wind.
"For Jamie Sommers," Jamie answered. It was the best thing he could have said. For you could see he had no country, that he knew there was no God.
New Orleans January 1965
"I was robbed?" Jamie said uncertainly. He didn't remember being robbed, but he must have been, to be this low on money. "Now, Jamie, why would anyone want to be robbin' you?
When you're giving it away? Any girl who said she'd fucked you, any man who claimed to be your pal—especially if he had white powder. Drinks on Jamie, all up and down Bourbon Street. You've spent money like the proverbial drunken sailor, Jamie—drank most of it, put quite a bit up your nose. I understand there were parties, in the fancy hotel, before they kicked you out."
Jamie felt too shaky to argue. He needed a drink, a snort, but couldn't get the strength together to go out and hunt for it.
The dealers were no longer hunting him.
"When's the last time you ate something, lad?"
"Leave me alone," Jamie said. "Quit nursemaiding me."
"You look like shit—I leave for three weeks and come back to find you lik
Jamie was trembling from too much drink and cocaine, emaciated from too little food, bleary-eyed from no sleep, too much sex; he carried bruises from four fights he could barely remember.
He felt like shit.
"No use brooding about young Malloy," Kell said impatiently.
If you cried over every tragedy the Troubles had caused, there'd be a whole new ocean, Kell thought. A sad thing, but the lad had first run to Jamie, who supposedly knew nothing—what else could Gregory do?
And Jamie had been sullen, silent, abrasive ever since.
And now this mad attempt to drink and drug himself happy—Kell had seen such soul-sick men before, they could be dangerous.
If Jamie couldn't pull himself together soon, they'd have to part ways.
"Ain't brooding," Jamie said, trying to remember if he'd hid any money somewhere.
"No need blaming Gregory—you yourself knifed a fellow not long ago, over a simple jailhouse romance, for all I know."
"Me? That guy, he was gonna ..." Jamie shuddered at the memory of the Algerian's sweaty, heavy body, his obscene stare always following Jamie's every movement. "Besides, who cares? He didn't have ..."