1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 41:



            “Bring up my second-best hat, while you’re at it!” Harry hollered at him. Then, went over to Sherrilyn and sat down beside her.


            “You’ll need the hat to keep your face hidden. Mostly covered by a blanket, lady weight-lifter or not, and even pushing forty like you are, ain’t no way anybody’s going to mistake you for a guy, up close.”


            “Harry, have I ever told you that you have the worst come-on lines of anybody I know?”


            “Sure. The morning after we spent the first night in bed together. I couldn’t tell if you were really pissed, though, the way you were laughing.”


            She chuckled, softly. “Walked into that one, didn’t I? Okay, genius boss, what’s the plan?”


            “You open it up. That ten-gauge will deafen ‘em, even if you miss—which you hardly can’t, at this range, as short as Gerd sawed down the barrels.”


            “Ill bust my shoulder if I try to fire this thing without—”


            “I ain’t stupid,” Harry cut her off.  “Don’t bother getting up. You don’t really gotta aim it anyway, just point it in the general direction.” He nodded at the blankets covering her and Juliet. “You don’t need both of them now. Roll one of ‘em up tight and use it as a brace for the butt.”


            Sherrilyn thought about it for a moment, and then nodded. “Okay, that’ll work. Well enough, anyway. But the blanket—the one that’ll still me on us, I mean—”


            “Way ahead of you, Sherrilyn. I should have said you’ll open up the shooting. I’ll start the whole business by yanking the blanket off you and waving it at the foe. Works for matadors, and these guys are way dumber than any bull.”


            Paul emerged from the hold, with Harry’s hat perched on his head. He was climbing the ladder a bit awkwardly since he held a bottle in each hand. Both were filled with clear liquid. Water, presumably, taken from the supply they boiled for drinking purposes.


            “You hear that, Paul?”


            “You start it, Sherrilyn’s shoots first, the rest of us pitch in afterward.”


            “Right. Pass it on to everybody else, will you?”


            Paul leaned over and handed Harry one of the bottles and the hat. Then, moving more easily with one hand free, came the rest of way out of the hatch and headed toward the stern where Donald Ohde was talking to Matija Grabnar. He still had time to pass along the plan to them and get back to the tarp in the bow before the pirates got close enough to make an accurate count of the crew members of their prospective victim.


            Not that it really mattered if the count was a little off. By now, realizing that escape was impossible and resistance even more so, the ship’s crew would be in semi-chaos. A man might be on deck one minute and cowering somewhere in the hold, the next.


            Speaking of cowering…


            Harry leaned over Sherrilyn and looked at Juliet. Sutherland was still sucking away on her pipe, looking as placid as a cow.


            “Can you really act?” he asked.


            She took the pipe out of her mouth. “The audience adored me. I’ve told you before—I would’ve been a star except jealous rivals kept me down.”


            “Right. So you did.” He looked at the pirate ship. One hundred and fifty yards. “Well, here’s your chance to prove it, Lady Sutherland. I’ll give the signal.”


            She nodded, still as placid as ever, and put the pipe back in place.


            “Okay, then,” Harry said. “We got a few minutes to relax. Contemplate philosophical thoughts. Whatever does the trick.”


            He settled back comfortably against the rail and tilted his head toward Sherrilyn.


            “Whaddaya say we get laid afterward?”


            “I never screw the boss.”


            “Okay. I’ll resign my commission. Become one of the guys.”


            “I never screw guys in my unit.”


            “Damn, you’re a hard-ass, Sherrilyn. Fine. I’ll quit the army. Become a civilian. How’s that?”


            “Like I said, Harry. You’ve got the worse come-on lines I ever heard. Three complete losers in a row.”


            “Oh, hell, that’s nothing. I can come up with way worse come-on lines than that.”


            She gave him a skeptical glance. “Prove it.”


            “Look, Sherrilyn, you just gotta face facts. You’re a natural dyke, all there is to it. Your desperate efforts to go straight are just distorting your soul. Spend a night with me in the sack and the experience will be so repulsive that you’ll finally be able to see your way to dykedom and sexual freedom.”


            Maddox burst into laughter. Loud enough and long enough that Harry started worrying. Even with the wind blowing, the pirates were getting close enough to hear.


            “Hey, cool it, willya? Or at least make it sound hysterical.”


            That shut Sherrilyn up in an instant. “I don’t do hysterical,” she said, scowling.


            Harry looked at the Algerine ship. One hundred yards off, now. From the looks of the figures crowding in its bow, he estimated a crew of somewhere around thirty men.


            “Any minute, Juliet.”


            She removed the pipe from her mouth and spent a few seconds making sure the tobacco wasn’t still burning. There wasn’t really much chance that smoldering tobacco could set a ship on fire, but anyone familiar with wooden sailing ships wasn’t going to take any chances. That done, she stowed it somewhere in her skirts.


            “Just say the word.”


            Harry saw that Donald and Matt were starting to pass their bottle back and forth, and decided it was time to emulate them. So, he took a swig from the bottle Paul had handed him.


            Water, sure enough, with the flat taste of boiled water that hadn’t been any too good to begin with. There was a reason that people in the seventeenth century didn’t usually drink the stuff.


            He passed it over to Sherrilyn. By now, she had the hat on, tilted forward to cover most of her face. She took a swig from the bottle, careful not to tilt her head too far back in the doing.


            They passed the bottle back and forth a couple of times. Just taking sips, really. The only purposes of the exercise was to make the oncoming pirates think the despairing crew had decided to indulge themselves in one last hurried drunk before entering years of enslavement and hard labor at the hands of Moslems who weren’t supposed to drink liquor at all.


            True, the Moslems on that ship were probably none too faithful about the business, especially since at least half of them would be Europeans whose conversion was pretty much a formality. Algerines treated their Christian slaves harshly in order to goad their relatives into ransoming them. But if the goad failed, after a few years they were usually fairly lenient about letting a slave convert to Islam and getting out of servitude. A fair number of the pirates on that ship would have once been slaves themselves.


            That didn’t make Harry any more inclined to show them mercy, of course. A man got his ticket punched on the wrong train, that was his problem. In the Lefferts school of theology, being stupid was the eighth mortal sin. If he’d been the guy bringing the stone tablets down the mountain, he’d have added Thou shalt not be a cocksure dumbass to the other ten. He couldn’t see where God would have objected, after all, being no dummy Himself.


            “Okay, Juliet,” he said. “Showtime.”