1634: THE BALTIC WAR – snippet 42:



Chapter 13


            “Give me the bottle,” she said.


            Harry passed it over, still half full. Juliet rolled out from under the blanket and surged to her feet. It was an ungainly motion, due to her own chunky build and the need to use one hand to hold the bottle. But there was plenty of muscle under the Englishwoman’s heft, and she was up in less than two seconds.


            Once erect, she staggered over to the rail and flung the bottle at the Algerine ship. It was thirty yards off now, coming alongside and preparing to board.


            It was a vigorous heave, but her aim was off—or wasn’t, more likely. Instead of hitting any of the pirates, the bottle smashed into the side of the ship itself. A product of the stout German school of bottle-making, it didn’t shatter but simply bounced off into the waters of the Channel.


            One of the pirates whooped. Just about all of them were grinning. Leering, it would be better to say.


            Juliet flung her hands wide, rolled back her head, and emitted a truly ear-splitting shriek. It was loud enough and piercing enough that several of the pirates winced. But most of them were too pre-occupied examining her figure. In that pose, even with her heavy winter garments, Juliet Sutherland’s female identity was blindingly obvious. The woman was rather homely, in point of fact. Not ugly, just having the kind of a heavy, bluff-featured face that would suit her as a matron once she was fifty instead of thirty. But her figure was the sort that Rubens favored for his paintings.


            Some of the pirates started yelling at her. Harry couldn’t make out the words. They weren’t from any European language he was familiar with, and by now he was familiar with a lot of them. But they didn’t sound particularly Arabic, either. If he remembered right, a lot of the Sallee rovers were Berbers. Back before the Ring of Fire, like any hillbilly, Harry had pretty much lumped all ragheads together. But he’d gotten a lot more sophisticated since then, especially from the months he’d spent traveling with the very cosmopolitan Catholic diplomat Giulio Mazarini.


            Whatever the exact meaning of the words, however, the general drift was obvious. The ogles and the grins were clear enough. Just in case there was any doubt at all, one of the pirates unlaced his trousers, pulled out his penis, and waved it at Juliet.


            That drew a really ear-piercing shriek. Juliet clapped both hands to the sides of her head, in a gesture of horror and despair that would have made any actress in the silent-film era look like a devotee of the method school of acting. Then, flung her arms apart again, issued another shriek, and began racing up and down the deck.


            “Racing,” at least, in spirit. Her actual progress was more of an unsteady stagger. The seas weren’t especially heavy this day, but the deck was rolling noticeably. That was something Harry had already taken into consideration in his own plans, as he was sure the other members of the unit would have also. This would have to be done upclose and personal. The footing just wasn’t good enough for fancy marksmanship.


            On her way, Juliet shook her fist at Harry and Sherrilyn. Then, when she neared the stern, shook her fist at Donald and Matija.


            Fucking cowards!” That was more of a bellow than what you’d call a shriek. As you might expect from a woman with that bosom, Sutherland had a splendid pair of lungs.


            She came back toward the bow, staggering worse than ever now that she had both hands pressed to the sides of her head again. She almost fell, at one point. Probably would have, except she regained her balance by throwing both arms wide and emitting another shriek.


            “I am fucking impressed,” Harry murmured.


            “Yeah, me too,” came Sherrilyn’s voice from under the brim of the hat. “Does it look as good as it sounds?”


            “Even better. All this time, I thought she was bull-shitting about the jealous rivals.”


            To be sure, in the world somewhere on the other side of the Ring of Fire, Juliet Sutherland would have been laughed off the stage. Any stage, even that belonging to an amateur theater group in West Nowhere. But patrons of the theater in the here and now would have had an equally derisive opinion of the understated and subdued thespianism of the late twentieth century. They would have thought even silent-film era stars were pale imitations of True Actors.


            Juliet certainly had the Algerines mesmerized. The pirate ship was now completely alongside, with less than ten yards separating the two vessels. Four of the pirates had grappling hooks ready. Harry estimated the length of the poles at no more than twelve feet.


            Five yards, then. He wanted them as close as possible without the two ships actually being linked together. Whatever concoction Gerd had come up with in the hold, it was sure to be hellish. Quite literally, incendiary—and having his own ship burn up was no part of Harry’s plan.


            In the end, he got nervous enough about that possibility that he decided six yards would do the trick. He surged to his own feet, far more athletically than Juliet had done, and yanked the blanket off of Maddox.


            Juliet had been watching for it, of course. The moment she saw him move, she issued the loudest shriek she’d managed yet. Then—she must have undone the lacings while Harry hadn’t noticed—she clawed aside her upper garments and exposed her bosom.


            A very impressive bosom, indeed. Between the shriek and the breasts, the pirates barely noticed Harry at all until he snapped the blanket wide open and hurled it into the air at them.


            There was no chance the blanket could make it across the space, even if there hadn’t been any wind, but that didn’t matter. As a visual distraction, it worked almost as well as Juliet’s tits. The incredible thunder clap of the ten-gauge going off came as a complete surprise to the Algerines.


            One of the pirates holding a grapping hook was flung back as if he’d been struck by a Titan, his upper body shredded and spraying blood everywhere. The men on either side of him were killed also. They were spun around like tops more than being smashed back, but that did even better because they tangled up the men next to them. At least one of whom had himself been hit, from the way he was clawing his face.


            Harry waited until the second barrel went off before he sprang to the rail. As good a shot as she was, and as much as he trusted Sherrilyn, nobody in their right mind is going to get anywhere near the possible line of fire of a sawed-off ten-gauge loaded with buckshot.


            Maddox’s second shot took out another grappling hook holder, and the men bunched around him. Harry was at the side an instant later, bracing his left hip against the rail and firing half-sideways with a two-handed grip. He favored a nine-millimeter himself, which he could easily fire one-handed. But that was on dry land, not a ship’s deck at sea. Even at a range of six yards, he had to concentrate.


            He double-tapped the pirate right across from him in the chest. Then he shifted his aim from left to right, double-tapping each target as he came to it. Following right behind him, Felix had taken position toward the stern and was doing the same. A better and faster shot with a pistol than Harry, even starting a bit later, Kasza had taken down his fourth man by the time Harry killed three—and he’d managed to shoot another one of the pirates holding a grappling hook, while he was at it.


            That left one grappling hook holder still to worry about, but Harry didn’t bother looking for him. Speed was everything in this situation, and he just concentrated on killing the nearest targets, whatever they had in their hands.


            Swords and other hand weapons only, so far as he could see. That was what he had expected. No sensible pirate captain would arm his men with firearms just to capture an unresisting merchant vessel with a crew less than a third the size of his own. Leaving aside the ever-present risk of accidentally shooting one of your own in the excitement of the moment, loaded guns on a ship—and they’d all be matchlocks, to make it worse—posed too great a danger of starting a fire.


            The pirates were shrieking themselves now, but Harry blocked that out of his mind. There was just a row of targets, that’s all. The only sounds that registered at all clearly were the sharp and unmistakable cracks of a semi-automatic rifle going into action from the stern.


             One rifle only, from the sound. That meant Matt, who could see everything unfolding from his position far better than Harry could, had gauged that the situation was well enough under control that he needn’t take the risk of releasing the helm and adding his own rifle to the mix. And it also meant Harry didn’t have to worry about that last grappling hook. Donald would have targeted that man first, and he was a superb marksman with any kind of rifle.


            Not in Julie’s class, of course, but Julie was a freak of nature. What difference did it make? The range here was measured in yards, not hundreds of yards.


            When his pistol ran out of ammunition, Harry just dropped it onto the deck, pulled out his backup, and kept firing. This ship had solid bulwarks, so there was no danger of the valuable gun slipping overboard.


            Maddox had joined Harry and Felix at the rail with her own pistol, and, not more than two seconds later, Paul Maczka was out from under the tarpaulin he’d hidden under and weighed in with his shotgun at the bow. Like all seventeenth century soldiers Harry knew, Paul positively adored pump-action shotguns. Clickety-BOOM, clickety-BOOM, clickety-BOOM, clickety-BOOM. By the time he started reloading, the bow of the enemy’s ship was a charnelhouse.


            Harry decided he could afford to pause himself. Not to reload—he still had four round left—but to take stock of the overall situation.


            Good enough, he decided, after a quick scrutiny. They’d killed or wounded close to half of the Algerine crew already. More than a third, for sure. And while the pirates still outnumbered them, they were obviously so stunned by the incredible mayhem that had been visited upon with no warning that they pose no immediate danger at all. Whatever rumors they might have heard about the rate of fire of the witch-weapons brought from the future, they’d dismissed as nonsense.


            They wouldn’t any longer, of course. But, for them, “any longer” was a time span that had shrunk down to minutes.


            “Front and center, Gerd!” Harry shouted.


            Gerd popped out of the hatch. Literally popped. George must have been standing in the hold below with Gerd’s feet in his hands and just heaved him up.


            Gerd rolled when he reached the deck, not even trying to find his feet right away. He was simply concentrating on keeping the large canvas package in his hands from getting damaged.


            Once he got to his knees, he leaned back over the hatch and held the package out. A very large hand came up holding a slowmatch and lit the fuse sticking out from the canvas.


            It was a very short fuse. Gerd surged to his feet, raced to the rail, and pitched the package onto the deck of the pirate ship.


            “Get us the fuck out of here, Matt!” he yelled, half-sprawled over the rail. Then he just flung himself down onto the deck.


            Matt already had their ship veering aside. Harry and other shooters sprawled to the deck also, as fast as they could while making sure their guns didn’t go off by accident. The package went off not more than a second later.


            The blast wasn’t so bad, but Harry could feel the heat through his heavy coat, even sheltered where he was. Whatever Gerd had put in that makeshift bomb, it was mostly designed to set the enemy ship on fire. Harry could only hope it wouldn’t ignite one of their own sails before they got far enough away.


            “Cut it a little fine there, didn’t you?” Paul hissed at Gerd.


            Harry was tempted to add his own admonishment, but manfully resisted. What could you expect? “Cutting it fine” and “let Gerd handle the fireworks” were pretty much a given. Which, of course, was the reason Harry had given him the assignment in the first place. As hair-raising as the results might be.


            He levered himself up and peered over the rail. The Algerine vessel was an already an inferno. Several more pirates had been killed outright by the blast, at least as many injured—and the intact members of the crew were paying no attention to anything except getting their two dinghies overboard. They didn’t have a prayer of stopping that blaze, and they knew it.


            By now, Grabnar had them far enough away that there was no danger of the fire spreading to Harry’s own ship. He rose to his feet and took a few seconds to study the pirates working at the dinghies. By the time he was done, Sherrilyn was on her feet also and standing next to him, reloading her ten millimeter. A bit guiltily, Harry looked around until he spotted his own pistol, lying against the rail a few feet away. But there was really no rush, and the weapon wasn’t going anywhere. He could reload later.


            “You’re the best rifle shot we got except maybe Donald,” he said to her. “Go to the stern and get Paul’s rifle. Between you and Donald, you ought to be able to keep them from launching either of those dinghies.”




            The pirates did manage to get one of the dinghies into the water. Or Sherrilyn did, if you believed her later boast that one of her rounds had cut the last remaining line and dumped the dinghy before any pirate could get into it. Either way, it didn’t matter. That dinghy drifted off, unoccupied, while Donald and Sherrilyn systematically slaughtered any pirate who tried to lower the other one.


            At the end, not more than half a dozen pirates threw themselves into the sea to get away from the holocaust that their ship had become.


            “Get us closer and we can pick ‘em off!” Donald hollered.


            Harry shook his head. “Waste of ammo. Just let ‘em be. They’ll all be dead anyway, in less than ten minutes.”


            People had swum across the English Channel from time to time, Harry knew, in the world he’d left behind. But they hadn’t been Algerine pirates picked at random, they’d been people who’d trained for it for years. And he was pretty sure they’d done it at the narrowest stretch of the Strait of Dover, which was still many miles away. And he was dead sure they hadn’t done it in January. Maybe if he were wearing a wet suit—and assuming he was a good enough swimmer in the first place—a man could make it to the French shore, well over ten miles away. But these pirates didn’t stand a chance. Hypothermia would take them under before they got a mile.


            No, there’d be no inconvenient witnesses to make awkward comments about the little group of disreputable-looking travelers who’d be arriving in London soon. Disreputable didn’t matter, certainly not in Southwark. Dangerous as demons did, until the demons finally bared their fangs at the Tower.


            George came up out of the hold. “You all right, love?”


            “It was horrible. Look at this!” She’d never re-laced her vest, having concentrated entirely on just getting out of the way once the shooting started. Her breasts were more impressive than ever, now that she hauled them out in her hands. “They’re frost-bitten!”


            George ambled over. “Not to worry. Come down below and I’ll take care of the problem. Between me and some rum—especially me—they’ll be as good as ever in no time.”


            “Right.” She stuffed the medical objects in question back where they’d come from. Then, gave Harry a very haughty look. The sort that would have fit a real dame far better than did her face.


            “See? Didn’t I tell you? It was jealous rivals did me in.”


            “I never doubted you once,” said Harry. Proving, despite his flamboyant reputation, that he followed the eleventh commandment with devout scruple even if he was none too diligent about the other ten.