We’re coming up on the home stretch for the next volume of the Graylands saga: The Jinxed Pirate. So here’s a small preview where we catch up with alleged pirate Krutch Leeroy as he finds himself in a tight spot with the authorities….
“If it’s any consolation, this isn’t how I wanted the day to go either.”
Krutch could see the barmaid didn’t believe him, as her eyes shifted to confusion before returning to fear. He sighed and tried again to find some kind of comfortable position.
The tavern’s crawlspace was the three foot gap between the floor and the dirt foundation underneath. The ground was harsh and stony, and the floorboards above were filthy and congealed with something sticky. The air was sweltering—it felt like the worst of summer already—but the stink was the worst. It was the inevitable stench one would expect in the dirt beneath a tavern packed nightly with drunks and worse.
He tried not to imagine what awfulness had festered over the years in the dismal space he was cramped in—spilled drinks, dropped food, vomit, piss, blood—and focus on more cheerful thoughts like the growing cramp in his back, sweat dripping beneath his clothes, or the Sentry Elite he was hiding from.
The floorboards creaked, and dirt from the soldier’s boots spilled through the cracks. There were only two—in the tavern, at least. There was no telling how many more were waiting outside. One called himself Wayland Dillon. The other didn’t speak, but Dillon introduced her as Ellen Wells. The names rang a bell, but Krutch could barely hear them.
Not that it mattered. He knew the questions being asked. It had been the same song and dance in dozens of other places: We’re looking for Krutch Leeroy. Have you seen him? If so, where? How long ago? Where’s he heading? What’s he up to?
Across from him, Arkady looked calm, even though his skin was shiny with sweat. For a moment, he pondered if he might be able to see his reflection in Arkady’s bald head. The young pirate’s lanky body fit into the crawlspace well enough, but his toned muscles were tensed. He was ready for anything if things turned ugly.
In spite of the heat, the barmaid was trembling. She too was sweating, but he suspected that was fear as much as anything else. He kept his hand over her mouth and pistol pressed against her temple. He hated this. Although the weapon wasn’t loaded and he had no intention of hurting her even if things did turn bad, he felt disgusted with himself.
The bartender did his part and brushed off the questions. Once the Sentries left, they let out sighs of relief. Krutch looked at the barmaid, her eyes wide and still frightened, and nodded at her. He’d hoped to be reassuring, but it seemed to have no effect. She was probably convinced he was going to kill her anyway.
After waiting a few minutes to give the Sentries time to leave, he muttered, “All right, let’s get out of this hole.”
They emerged from the hatch beside the bar. The bartender looked on, tense and uneasy, and his eyes had a pleading look. “Okay,” he said. “They’re gone. I did like you said. Please, just be on your way.”
Krutch was up first and replied, “Yeah, yeah. We’re going. Just hang on a second.”
He took the barmaid by her hand and helped her out of the crawlspace. She gave him a confused look as if she didn’t understand what he was doing or why. He rolled his eyes, getting used—and indifferent—to people’s constant misinterpretations of his actions.
Then again, I was holding a gun to her head a few seconds ago.
Arkady emerged after the girl. “What do you think, boss? Should we get going, or do you want to spend the night?”
“Please,” the bartender whined, “I did everything you asked. Please, just—”
“Hey!” Arkady barked. “If we want to stay in this dump, we’re going to—”
“Both of you relax,” Krutch interrupted, cracking his neck.
He groaned and scratched his shaggy black hair, which was damp with sweat. Sleep in an actual bed would be nice—as would a bath—but he didn’t want to have to deal with a complaining bartender all night.
“Look, we’re going to—”
“Excuse me, barkeep, but I was wondering if I could get some …”
The Sentry trailed off, seeing Krutch—pistol still in hand, pointed at the barmaid—and Arkady climbing out of the hidden latch near the bar. They all stared at each other, save the bartender whose head looked like it was about to burst. The barmaid cringed, as if expecting to be murdered. Arkady’s face strained—his hand drawing toward the dirk on his belt.
Krutch clicked his tongue.
“What is this?”
The soldier, Dillon, was an imposing man with dark skin and long, black hair. He stood in the tavern’s doorway, and the glare of light outside made him an intimidating silhouette. But his eyes stood out, and they were staring daggers at the pirates before him.
“What is this?”
Krutch suspected the question was rhetorical, but bluffed anyway. “We were,” he said. “Fixing. Um—the floor. We were fixing the floor.”
“Yeah,” he said. “That’s what we were doing. Did, um, did … bartender not mention we were repairing the floor just now?”
“No, he didn’t.” Dillon took a step in, his fists clenched. A large axe was strapped to his back. His eyes narrowed on Krutch. “What’s that in your hand?”
“This?” he replied, holding up the pistol. “Just a tool. I … I need my tools. For fixing.”
The Sentry took another step forward, his face frozen in a harsh glower. “You’re Krutch Leeroy.”
“Noooo,” he replied, backing against the bar. Drawing out his words, he said, “I … am … not … actually … positively … blargh!”
With that, he snatched the wash towel from the bartender and hurled it at Dillon’s face. Wasting no time, he charged toward an open window and dove through it, not even waiting to see if Arkady was following.
He ran into the nearby woods, hoping he might find some cover and hide, and heard the commotion behind him as Dillon alerted Wells—a tall, thin woman with dark hair—he was escaping. This was followed by the sound of a galloping horse.
Despite being in his mid-twenties and fairly thin, Krutch Leeroy was by no means an athletic young man. It didn’t take long before he was gasping for air with a sharp cramp stabbing at his side.
Making matters worse, the cover of forest didn’t go far. After a couple of yards, he found himself in a wide clearing. Gentle hills sloped up and down as far as the eye could see, and the nearest cover was miles in either direction. He ran a little further to find his path only led to a steep ravine that fell into a river. Behind him, he heard the horse approaching.
Wells caught up to him fast. He avoided getting rode down, but he was struck by a kick to the head as she passed. Circling around, she shouted, “Remember me, Leeroy?”
Dazed and rubbing his head, he replied, “Not really, no.”
“I am Lt. Ellen Wells of the Sentry Elite!” she declared, drawing her sword.
He stared at her. “That doesn’t narrow it down.”
She frowned and said, “You escaped us at the Blind Cliffs!”
Krutch groaned. “I was at the Blind Cliffs, yeah, but I’m sorry I don’t take inventory of every individual Sentry I encounter. You all kind of blur together.”
That seemed to offend her. She dismounted the horse and strode toward him, looking like she was expecting a grand duel. “You’ve eluded us long enough. Today, I’m going to take you in and—”
“You all say the same things, too.”
She frowned again and raised her sword. “Come on, Leeroy! Show me how the infamous pirate lord fights!”
“Not well, I can assure you.”
The Sentry started circling him, on guard and ready for attack. Krutch stood in place, not sure how to respond. He didn’t know how to fight, and the only weapon he had was an unloaded pistol. Even if he had shells, he had no desire to kill a soldier doing her job—even if she was bit of a glory-hound.
“Well?” she demanded. “Fight me!”
He looked at the pistol in his hand and said, “Look, I don’t know what to tell you, but—blargh!”
Acting on impulse, he threw the gun at her face. It struck her in the jaw, and her head jerked back. She covered her now bleeding mouth and screamed, “OW! What was that?!” She hesitated and spit something into her hand. Staring at it, her eyes widened. “That was my tooth, you little shit! What the hell is wrong with you?!”
“That’s how the infamous pirate lord fights,” he said, shrugging.
Wells’s eyes filled with rage as she raised her sword again. “I’m going to kill you, you son of a..!”
Taking advantage of her confusion and anger, Krutch lunged in what could only be described as a clumsy tackle. He plowed into her and knocked her off balance. She dropped her sword, so he grabbed it and hurled it away as hard as he could. Taking his pistol, he then turned and ran in the opposite direction.
Behind him, Wells snarled and shouted at him—calling him a coward and worse—but he didn’t care. He was a coward and never claimed otherwise. Unfortunately, in his haste to flee, he forgot about the ravine, and to Wells, it was as though Krutch Leeroy disappeared into thin air.
In actuality, he took a nasty spill down the rocky wall—knocked unconscious before he even hit the river at the bottom.
Expect more excerpts catching up with Katrina and Lily in the future.
The Jinxed Pirate should be up for sale this January.
In the meantime, if you haven’t already, check out the first part of the Graylands saga:
The Ghost Princess
The Jinxed Pirate is now available.
Graylands ©2016 by M. Walsh