Friday, February 15, 2008

White Swan - the other story - Flash Fiction

In White Swan two stories are told simultaneously. One is a contemporary story of love and intrigue that takes place on the White Swan (see previous post below) – the biggest riverboat never built. The second is the story of Jean Lafitte, the gentleman pirate, who plied his trade in the Gulf and Caribbean and, for a while, called New Orleans his home. This is Lafitte’s first appearance in the book. What happens after he pulls the trigger is left hanging until the next chapter.

copyright Roscoe James - 2008

Louisiana Territory – 1811

The moss covered cypress that lined the canal bank were stately and majestic and imparted a quiet Sunday feeling on the faded gray dawn. Dew slicked grass along the knoll of the canal fell lazily to the side and its water ran slow, almost stagnant, its surface flat and undisturbed.

The cheerful twitter of morning birds, much like the two gentlemen speaking quietly beneath the tallest of the cypress, was in sharp contrast to the somber nature of the occasion.

“But did you see her, Pierre?”

“That I did, Jean. That I did. But really, she can’t be worth risking your life over.”

Jean Lafitte ignored the comment and pulled a gold pocket watch from his blue silk waistcoat to check the time. “I believe you have little reason to worry. It would appear the braggart has decided not to show.”

Jean Lafitte’s brother, Pierre, pulled his brightly plumed hat off his head and wiped his brow with a blue silk handkerchief, “The sun has yet to top the trees and the heat is unbearable.”

“I think you’ve been sitting in your office too long, brother. This is a fine morning. Give the sun an hour and the sails in the gulf will be as full as my heart is.”

“You’re being daft, Jean! And over a woman! I never thought I’d see the day!”

Jean Lafitte, the gentleman pirate, late of New Orleans, cocked his head and chuckled. With a sly smile he said, “I see the coward has decided to show his face after all. What say you, Pierre? Do I let him live?”

“You’re a fool, Jean.”

Shrugging out of his coat, he handed it to Pierre and countered with, “Better a foolish man than an unmanly fool, Pierre.”

Taking Jean’s coat, Pierre shook his head, and muttered, “And now you’re a philosopher. God rot this dark skinned Venus!”

“Never, Pierre!” With that Jean Lafitte turned on his adversary, planted his feet a shoulder’s width apart, balled his fists and glued them firmly on his hips and watched Francisco De La Madrid climb the steep slope of the canal bank followed by a short round gentleman, dressed from head to toe in white, that huffed and puffed in his tracks carrying a brass bound wooden box.

“The question, I fear, is whether he will see fit to let you live.”

“Nonsense, Pierre. I hear his aim is superb but, as with all Spaniards, his knees tremble when between the thighs of his mistress. I’ll be lucky if he doesn’t faint before I shoot him.”

“But the saber is your weapon of choice. You are unbeatable when making your point, so to speak. Knowing that, our friend, SeƱor De La Madrid, chose pistols.”

Jean smiled a smile that Pierre knew all too well. One he’d seen on the foredeck of a three master many a times just before canons were fired and grappling ropes thrown.
“Dash that. Where will we breakfast? I have arrangements to make,” Jean said with a chuckle before slapping Pierre on the shoulder and striding toward De La Madrid.

“Good morning, Lafitte.” De La Madrid sounded somber and his face was drawn.

“De La Madrid,” Jean took a brigands stance and nodded with a lecherous scowl.

“I see you’ve brought your brother to second.”

“That I have, De La Madrid.”

The posturing was as important as the duel itself and both men stood a few feet apart regarding one another.

Jean noted, as any warrior would when sizing up his enemy, that while his opponent seemed not to have slept, he did appear determined and there was no noticeable tremble or quake to his hands.

“And I see you’ve brought a snowball. You should put him in the shade before he melts,” Lafitte sneered.

They both heard Pierre stifle a laugh.

“And to think I was going to give you a chance to withdraw your challenge. I know the pistol is not your weapon, Lafitte. Best to end the day a coward than to end it cold in a wooden box,” De La Madrid parried in a low steady voice.

Jean’s laugh was hearty and he replied with zest, “I think it best I give you a chance to withdraw your comment and apologize to me publicly tonight at Madame Bernadette’s.”

“You are still just a pirate, Lafitte,” De La Madrid snarled, “and that strumpet you were eying last night is just another folly for your stable of whores!”

Jean’s strongest feeling was one of pity. He really didn’t hate De La Madrid; he was just growing weary of how the general population of New Orleans had treated him of late. It would seem that even fighting shoulder to shoulder with General Andrew “Old Hickory” Jackson and receiving a letter of commendation and pardon was not enough to convince New Orleans, or his adopted country, of his loyalty and patriotism.

His sneer gone, his face fixed in deadly determination, he leaned to within an inch of De La Madrid’s face and stated flatly, “I will see your wife whore for me before the sun sets, De La Madrid. And before the week is out your mistress will know what it is to make love to a real man.”

His stare never wavered as he watched De La Madrid turn abruptly and motion to the snowball that, whether for the stifling heat or the situation, indeed appeared to be melting as he stepped forward with the ornate box and lifted the lid to reveal two William Parker .69 caliber dueling pistols that had been hand made in London.

Picking one up, Jean hefted the knurled maple grip and inspected the flint and cocking mechanism. Then he eyed the snowball until De La Madrid had retrieved the second pistol.

“Do both gentlemen understand the rules of engagement?” Pierre stepped forward and waited for an answer.

“Yes,” replied De La Madrid with no particular inflection.

The snowball, mouth agape, retreated when Lafitte barked, “Of course. Just get on with it.”

“Very well. You will both stand back to back and walk ten paces, turn, and fire at will. Only one shot will be taken and the man left standing will do so by the grace of God, his right to honor proven. The man that falls does so at the judgment of God and, if he should die, does so in disgrace.

“If neither man is killed nor, as well, if both men are killed, the matter will be considered settled.” Pierre retreated to the line of cypress, where the snowball was cowering, and waited.

Jean bent his arm and raised his pistol, pointing it at the heavens, and pulled the hammer back with a resounding click turning his back on De La Madrid. Another click was followed by a settling of warmth against his shoulders.

The sky was clear and blue and the sun was just coming over the St. Louis Cathedral spire at Place D’Armes. Jean noted the birds had quieted and felt a gentle breeze on his brow. His smile was one of satisfaction when he noted De La Madrid shift his shoulders twice against his as if trying to get comfortable.

“Begin gentlemen,” Pierre announced with authority.

He felt no fear as he took the first step. His thoughts were not on death’s dark gaping maw when his left foot came forward and carried him another pace away from De La Madrid. Instead he heard her lilting laugh and stared deeply into her stunning azure eyes. With his third step he cleared his mind.

By the fourth step he was focused on defending his enchantresses honor with his life.
The haunting call of an osprey marked his eighth step and his breathing was steady and his heart beat slow.

When he planted his left foot for the fifth time he breathed deep and held it as his right foot came forward and swung in a tight arc around his left bringing De La Madrid into view.
He noted with a warrior’s pragmatic eye that De La Madrid was already in place and lowering his pistol to take aim.

It made no difference. He was much too disciplined to sacrifice accuracy to rush the attack.
His right foot came down firmly a foot in front of his left, his right shoulder facing De La Madrid, all of which minimized the target he presented to his opponent.

Head turned hard right to look past his upraised forearm he felt his opponent’s deadly projectile burn across his shoulder blades and saw the cloud of grey smoke leap from the end of De La Madrid’s gun just before he heard the loud boom his opponent’s weapon made.

With no thought of celebration at having survived the volly he slowly lowered his pistol and took, what Pierre would later call, an eternity, which in reality was only a few heartbeats, to take careful, almost casual aim, at a trembling De La Madrid and squeezed the trigger.


Maura Anderson said...

Very cool - I really liked it.

Roscoe James said...

Thanks Maura. As always, you're being kind... and I'll take all that I can get. lol.

Nina Pierce said...

Hey, anyone working here? Bar's open, but the bartender seems to have taken a break...