It didn't take long. There were only five of them, including the captain, and it was obvious
that they were primarily crewmen, working at a crew's level of security, caught in that sort
of “half-light” world between DeVille's darker business universe and his more public leisure-
I took the first one coming through the darkened saloon. He was silhouetted against the re-
flected light from the mirror behind the bar, and even in the dark, the slug caught him in
the eye. I was shooting for between his top lip and his nose – there, it goes straight through
and blows out the cerebellum. It's like just turning off a switch. They feel nothing, it hap-
pens too fast. He dropped like someone had cut his strings.
I said I don't like guns, not that I didn't know how to use 'em.
I pocketed his Glock 9, and caught the next two coming down the stairs from the upper deck.
The first one dropped fine, but had the bad sportsmanship to fall right on top of me, which
lit up my wound and forced me to drop the .45. I repaid him by using his body as a shield
while the fucker behind him fired into his back. I pulled the Glock, returned fire, and that
was all of that.
I got to the top of the stairs, and there was no Man Number 4 that I could find – I thought
he must have jumped ship, which was probably the wisest decision he'd made in a couple weeks.
From there, I made my way to the bridge, where I found the captain and Man Number 4, not so
wise as all that, after all.
They stood with their backs to me, Engelhorn at the wheel, Number 4 monitoring the instruments.
“Are you two the skeleton crew we hear so much about?”
To their credit, neither of them flinched. The slim, older man straightened his shoulders and
turned to face me, hands raised. “Mr. Penney, I believe?”
“Oh, you better believe, Cap'n – you two have one last chance to ditch this tub, or dead or
alive, you go down with it.”
“Mr. Penney, as captain, I can't – ”
“Yeah, yeah, can't abandon ship, I've heard all that before. I'm telling you, you don't have
to worry about that storm, you have to worry about me. It's funny, but I still had a couple
o' fucks, until one of you assholes shot me – this is the end of the movie for this vessel.
Now, where's DeVille and what does he have in those goddamn crates?”
“I don't – ”
I fired into the back of Number 4's head, and brought my eyes back to Englehorn.
“I DON'T KNOW! I'm just the captain of his fucking yacht, he doesn't tell me everything about
his business – private or otherwise!”
“Where is he and where are the crates?”
“I don't kn... The crates are in the engine room, I don't know where Mr. DeVille is!”
“Just cut 'n' run on ya, huh? That is SO LIKE him, isn't it?”
He didn't know how to answer that one, just stood there, sweating bullets and nibbling his
mustache with his lower lip.
“Right,” I said, tired of not getting many answers. “Get a life vest, grab a float, and get
over the side. You can probably catch up with the rest of your crew. If or when you get
picked up, all you know is that you were attacked by pirates.”
“In these waters?!”
I shrugged. “Well, they ain't all on the Spanish Main, these days, asshole, they've expanded
their territory. You fought, but had to make an escape. Mr. DeVille was killed by those
monsters. That's all you know about it. Right?”
He nodded vigorously. “Absolutely, sir.”
I winked at him. “That's why you're the captain. Now take me to the engine room.” He turned
to switch off the engines, but I stopped him. “Leave those running – you'll wanna let this
thing get as far from shore as possible. Trust me.”
He took me as far as the crew deck, the Glock pressing hard into his spine, before I asked
which way to turn at the foot of the stairs; I get turned around on boats. He told me and I
told him to run. He did, and I fired above his head to see if he could run a little faster –
turns out, he could. He was in pretty good shape for a geezer.
I descended, made my turn, and soon found myself in the engine room.
Anton was standing over one of the opened crates, holding a damn revolving-cylinder grenade
launcher. And giggling. He was actually giggling. Then, he glanced up at me, hauling the
business end around to cover me.
“As you can see, your, aaah, your reputation preceeds you. Heh.”
“You said that before.”
“So I did! Heh-heh. Sorry, I've had a lot on my mind. Thing is, um, this is a prime example
of why you should always do your own packing. Y'see, I have this amazing weapon... but it
isn't loaded. And I don't know which box the grenades are in. Hahahahaaaaa – isn't that a
scream, Clyde? I mean, would you believe it?!”
“Your reputation preceeds you, too, Anton, so no – not in a million years.”
“Ah. Well. I suppose that's on me.” His face hardened and he fired.
I was already on my way to the floor, and the grenade flew past me, overhead. I had the Glock
up and caught him three times in the chest, high and to his right. He dropped the grenade
launcher and fell back, toward the engines. I crawled forward on my elbows while counting.
By the time I reached DeVille, there was a blast behind me and a wave of warm air that rushed
up my legs to the back of my head.
I stood, cursing my own wounds, and glanced back the way I'd come – the stairs, or ladder or
whatever the swabbies call it, was still intact, it looked like, but farther along was in
rough shape. What the fuck did he have in those grenades? Then I remembered more of our con-
versation in the warehouse office: phosphorous. Motherfucker.
I lurched over to DeVille. The Glock must have been loaded with hollow-point rounds – they
make a pretty good hole going in, but coming out the back, they leave one the size of a grape-
fruit. I hadn't checked the other men I'd put down, but blood was pouring out of his wound and
his mouth. He wasn't going to make it, but I didn't trust the son of a bitch even to die,
without a little extra help.
He struggled weakly as I dragged him into the engine room proper and propped him up against
the fuel intake lines. I found zip-ties in my coat pockets and tied him to the lines. I
thought it a shame to waste a perfectly good brick of C4 – I mean, it wasn't very big, but
then neither was I, now, and look at all the shit I could fuck up. And I wanted Anton DeVille
out for keeps. I zip-tied it to DeVille's beltbuckle, then attached and set the detonator.
While I worked, his eyes fluttered open. He spat blood in my face.
“Motherfucker,” he wheezed; definitely punctured a lung.
I let it run down and drip onto my shirt, laughing softly. “That's funny, Anton – what kind
of fucked up creature do you have to be, when a creep like me thinks the world would be a
better place without you?” I whipped the Glock's barrel across his face a few times.
“I'll see you in Hell, Clyde,” he gurgled through split lips and broken teeth.
“I would have expected better than clichés from you, at the end. But yeah. Probably,” I
grunted, standing. “Mention my name when you get there, maybe you'll get a better table.”
I took the stairs two at a time. There was one lifeboat left. I almost made it in, when the
C4 went up. The yacht lurched and rocked, dropping the lifeboat without me. Better and better
– I might have caught up with it, if there weren't a thunderstorm in full swing, and the
yacht under me wasn't sinking fast and ready to suck me down with it. I bolted as fast as I
could for the forward bow – I was pretty sure it would go down last.
I stood there, watching the lightning and listening to the creaks and groans. The sizzle and
roar of a fairly large, burning sea vessel, and thinking it was time, time for all of this to
come to a close. I'd started the day in a straitjacket and muzzle, and here I was, shot, most
my hair singed down to about an inch and a half, on my way to a watery grave – just like
Deacon. If I couldn't do better than THIS... Okay, I'd saved a couple teenage kinksters, but
it was me who helped get 'em in this situation. Maybe I should have gone to Amsterdam and
seen which got me first – the pancreatic cancer or the morphine. But that would've left
DeVille, wouldn't it.
I'd done a lot of shit, in my day. Clyde had, anyway. There was a lot to account for, but
maybe taking down DeVille would pay for some of it. Enough of it. But I was remembering more
and more about Clyde, and not so much about Deacon. Which one was I, now? Clyde? Deacon? Both?
Was I some weird conglomoration of them both? Would I ever be Deacon James again? Was this
what Clyde Penney was like? Doing those terrible things so gleefully – because, God help me,
there was a part of me, the Clyde part, who enjoyed committing these horrors. Even when trying
to work out some manner of redemption. And afterward, remorse and melancholy, like the Walrus
and the Carpenter, weeping bitter tears after having eaten all those poor little oysters...
I felt through my coat pockets, found a pack of cigarettes, and realized I'd never get one
lit in the downpour. Shit. Yeah – it was definitely time. Closing time. Fuck it.
I was about to dive off the bow, but the yacht gave up one more explosion that blasted me out
and into the storm-pummeled waters just outside of Ambrose Bay, a little bit north of
I dreamed, I think.
It was strange. I was sinking, facing half toward the surface, and there was a bright light.
Below me and to the side, I could see the yacht, the S.S. Nostromo, laughably named by that
ego-driven, megalomaniacal, villainous pederast, drifting deeper, the fires still burning from
all the phosphorous, drawing me down behind it. If you've never seen a sinking ship, already
underwater, yet still burning away within, let me tell you: it's a terrifying sight. It's a
vision of Hell.
Then, there was a shadow, something big, between me and the light above. It plunged toward me.
Hell below me, with DeVille waiting, now the Angel of Death coming to keep me company on the
way, darkness wrapping around me...
And then, as suddenly as I'd found myself in that alley, which was my first conscious memory,
I was in a bed, in a room with the shades drawn, the only light from a bedside table. Not the
same room or bed I'd awoken strapped into. This was a queen-size bed with a just-firm-enough-
to-be-comfortable mattress. The more I came awake, the more I recognized it: it was the
master bedroom in my penthouse apartment, back at the Project, sparsely furnished, a few
framed prints and posters on the walls, a dresser, a dressing table, one door for the master
bathroom, one for the closet, and one more to the rest of the apartment. Chopin's nocturnes
were coming softly from hidden speakers, and there was an aroma in the air of something rich
and succulent and a little spicy.
I tried to stretch and made another discovery: I was back in the straitjacket.
A soft snore from my bedside drew my attention: Brent was collapsed in the chair from my
office, asleep. I managed to get my gummy lips apart and croaked, “Hey – you.”
He was awake in an instant, as though he'd never been asleep. If I knew how to do that, I
wasn't aware of it, and certainly hadn't done so, that I could recall, and I have to say I
was kinda envious.
He pulled the chair closer to the bedside and leaned in. “How are you feeling? Do you need
“Kinda beat up – everything hurts. My chest, my shoulder, my neck, my back... I could use a
few answers, now. And a good, stiff vodka tonic would be very, very welcome. And, er, if you
don't mind my asking, um... What's with the 'jacket? Has my usefulness come to an end so soon?”
There was the trademark raised eyebrow. “Still a smartass. Vodka tonic? Seriously?”
“Pretty sure the nanoids can handle it. And, not to toot my own horn, but I think I've earned
His expression of wry amusement softened, then. He leaned in and kissed me, soft and warm,
but a little hesitant, like he didn't want to force anything more, but would be ready, if it
somehow occurred in our discussions, later. Then he disappeared for a few minutes and returned
with a pint glass full of vodka, tonic, and ice, with a couple wedges of lime perched on the
rim, and a bendy-straw. I tried to scootch up, and he quickly set the glass on the bedside
table and lifted me forward, stacking the pillows behind me. He sat on the side of the bed
and held the glass for me, while I tried to prevent myself from draining it.
Coming up for air, I asked, again, “So, what's with the straitjacket?”
He took a drink for himself, and said, “Okay – two reasons for that. First, that shot in your
shoulder cracked your collarbone, and Ellie wanted to set it, to make things a little easier
and faster for the nanoids. Nothing says 'Party!' like breaking and resetting a bone. So, we
needed to immobilise your left arm for a couple days.”
“Okay, noted. But they make strappy, brace-y stuff for exactly that.”
“They certainly do,” he nodded, “However, you are a restless sleeper, and they didn't want
you taking it off in your sleep. This seemed to kill two birds with one stone. Reason two was,
we weren't sure who was gonna wake up. Besides, you look adorable and hot like that, so you
“Of course not,” I grumbled, “After all – you heff vays uff makink me not-talk.”
He nodded, setting the glass aside. “And here comes one of them, now...”
He leaned in, close – like, really close, stretching out on top of me – and my mouth disap-
peared under his. I have no idea how long it went on – I didn't care then, and I don't care
now – but it took me to a place that his other kisses hadn't, and I liked it. It took me to a
place where it was just the pair of us in the whole wide world, and for the first time I can
remember, the first time, certainly, since waking up in the middle of smashing Roger Rank,
that I felt...
I know how it sounds to the cynics, out there, but let me say this: Fuck you. While he was
kissing me, like that, I felt safe, secure, wanted, desired, possessed... Loved, maybe? If it
ever stopped, it would be too soon; if it never stopped, well, that would be fine by me.
When it broke, I caught my breath in a gasp, opened my eyes, and said, “Wow – I got an idea
that you reeeeally like this setup.”
He thrust his hips into me and wiggled his eyebrows. “I got an idea that I'm not alone
“Stoopid penis,” I grumbled. “Can't even keep a secret.”
“Not from me, Mister. Not ever again.”
That puzzled me. “What – ” but he cut me off with another kiss. It didn't take me to That
Place, but it was nice, and it shut me up, which last is almost a superpower, in itself. Then,
he pulled himself up and sat where my lap would be, straddling me, eyes locked with mine.
Eventually, he said, “What happened? What do you remember? I've heard Rudy's and Sheldon –
okay, Sharky's end of it. And thanks, by the way, for scaring the shit out of them in that
lifeboat. You even scared Blossom, for chrissakes!”
“Oh, no – not me. Clyde Penney had a little breakthrough,” I said. Then I gave him a rundown
of everything that happened after Blossom and the guys got away, right up to getting blasted
into the bay and nearly devoured by the burning, sinking wreck of the yacht. Finally, I said,
“Okay, Mr. Brent – your turn...”
They were in the helicopter, picking up the boys, Blossom, and the two gunsels, when the
first blast blew out the rear starboard “corner” of the yacht. Blossom gasped, and Rudy had
a fit – “Deacon! Unca Wally, Deacon's still on there!” Gunner and Dutch waved them on to go
get me, while they stayed in the lifeboat – of course, when they went back, the lifeboat was
gone, cheap gangsters and all. They circled the sinking wreck, looking for me, and somehow,
through the rain and storm, Sharky had spotted me, silhouetted by the burning wreck beneath
me, and the searchlight held the scene. Blossom snatched up the rescue vest, hooked it to
the cable and dove into the water after me. I was only remotely conscious, and the nanoids
were working overtime to keep me oxygenated, but Blossom finally got the rescue vest buckled
around me; Brent winched the pair of us back up to the helicopter. The Coast Guard showed up
shortly thereafter, rescued the surviving crew and captain, who told a tale of modern piracy
that would have left Robert Louis Stevenson gasping. Dutch and Gunner were nowhere to be found.
Good on 'em, I thought. I just hoped their next gig wouldn't bring them into my path, or that
of anyone remotely like DeVille. They'd be better off collecting for local bookies.
“Look,” I said, “Give 'im a good screening and interrogation, but see can we do something for
Englehorn. I don't make him for a bad guy, he was just uninformed, like damn near everyone
else who wasn't part of that circle. Working in the dark, kind of, which I know something
Brent looked at me with that sort of half-smile you see on people you've somehow surprised a
little, shown them something unexpected but welcome. “I'll look into it.”
“Cool – so, helicopter rescue, then what?”
He shrugged. “Then, we brought you back here. Xiro and Ellie wrung the water out of you and
gave you a thorough going over, decided that the nanoids were working very hard at their job,
but accomplishing it just fine without their help, and decided that, between the nanoids'
healing activity, and you getting beaten up, shot up, burned up, blown up, and nearly drowned,
all on a double whiskey and a plate of lasagna, you were just exhausted, so we should let you
sleep it off. And for the past day and a half or so, that's what you've been up to.”
“So, no real danger, then, just dog-ass tired.”
“Uh-huh. Well, then, Facilitator Brent, why are you in here playing nurse, waking me up with
your adorable snores, instead of facilitating this facility? Huh? Answer me that!”
One day, he was going to roll his eyes like that, and they would never come down again. But
this was not that day. “I can still use the muzzle, y'know...”
I squirmed, mostly playfully – at this point, between the straitjacket and Brent sitting
quite comfortably on my thighs, all I could do was wiggle my toes. “Big bully,” I pouted,
“that's what you are...”
Somehow, he managed to conceal any sign that he was wounded by my accusation. “Uh-huh,” he
said, “I'm a deeply wicked person. This is a character flaw I grieve over, late, on winter
We sat there, smoldering at each other, for a bit – until I finally lost the stare-down and
looked away. I had a fair idea where the rest of my evening was headed.
I cleared my throat and said, “The boys – Rudy and Sharky – where are they at, in all this?”
Brent chuckled. “Ah, the boys... You managed to get them back in time for breakfast, as
promised. Mr. Blossom stuffed us full of waffles, strawberries, and whipped cream, with link
sausages and bacon. DeVille managed to ferret out that I had a 'nephew', and getting control
of him would give him control over me. He didn't try to take Archie and Jeanie because that
would have been too high-profile – as long as he had Rudy, he could keep all three of us quiet.
So efficient, huh?”
“He's like that,” I nodded. “Well... he was like that.”
“Uh-huh. His death at the hand of a mysterious pirate band is all over the news, by the way.
Pirates? International industrialist and tech magnate? Killed by pirates?”
I scowled. “Short notice and we were on a fucking boat. If you could top that, under the cir-
cumstances, I'd be delighted to hear your 'Official Explanation'. Now about the boys...”
Brent shrugged. “Sharky's story checks out, with other info I was able to come up with. He
and Rudy were notably close friends at school. Rank was sent in to see if one could be used
as a lure for the other, found out that they both have an interest in kink – ”
“Rudy takes after his old man in a number of ways,” I chuckled.
He ran a hand across his forehead. “Someone's lip is long overdue for a zipper. You wanna hear
this or not?”
“You get mean when you drink,” I grumbled. “Speaking of which...” I pointed my chin at the
glass on the nightstand and made kissy-lips at it. Brent, being the actual Devil, reached,
picked it up, and took a good, long sip, before holding it for me. I finished it off and said,
“Rank conned him into bringing a bunch of kids into that little shindig and promised him
plenty of, er, 'alone time' with Rudy. Rudy was just along for the ride. We've had some of
our people talk to the authorities and to the victims, and squared that away, so there won't
be any legal consequences for him – this time. He'll have to sort it out with the people he
invited, though, so not entirely off the hook.”
“He can swing it,” I replied. “He's shrewd, even if his life decisions aren't always top
shelf. I was really prepared to not like him – but he's tough and resourceful... and he really
seems to care about Rudy. And Rudy seems pretty fond of him. I think they'll be able to
balance each other out rather nicely...”
Then, it occurred to me that I had no idea what time it was or even what day it was. “Holy
shit,” I exclaimed, “Where are they? What about their parents?! What about – ”
“Relax,” Brent told me, pushing me back against the pillows. “The guys are fine, their parents
are fine – in fact, they're kind of relieved. I called and left a message with both sets of
parents, right after you left for the hospital, and told them I was taking Rudy and his buddy
for the weekend, and if there were any problems, get back with me, otherwise I'd have them at
school in time for class, Monday morning. Archie and Jeanie were fine with it, I haven't taken
Rudy for a weekend in a while; the Plotnicks are... lovely people, but a little befuddled –
they just wanted to make sure that it wasn't any trouble, and sorta clumsily make sure that
their kid wasn't getting himself into trouble or something shady. Can you imagine.” He didn't
hide his smile very well.
“Heaven forefend,” I said in pretend shock and outrage. “So, where are they now? And what
time is it?”
“It's Sunday evening, and the boys...” Then he chuckled and smiled a smile that made me both
nervous and a bit tingly.
“Well,” he continued, “after getting the official debriefing out of the way, they got an
earful about kink play, not playing with people they didn't know and who they didn't have any
common friends with, and important rules, like 'Never get yourself into something you can't
get yourself out of,' at least at first, and especially with someone you don't trust with
your life, because that's exactly what they were trusting people with, and like that, and
definitely not while they're still minors. Once they're eighteen, they can do what they want,
but until then, if they want a safe place to play tie-up games, they should come here...”
“Oh. Oh, Brent. What did you do?”
He gave me a face so innocent, I actually would have believed it, under other circumstances.
“I just gave them what they wanted,” he said with a shrug, as if to say, Isn't it obvious?
He dug his mobile out of his back pocket, made his fingertips dance over the screen for a
moment, then held it so I could watch the video he'd taken. A wobbly-cam of the outside of
the door of one of the high-securty observation units – half a dozen featureless, soundproof,
padded rooms, down on the Security level. The image wavered up the door to the observation
window. A hand (clearly Brent's) shifted the sliding coverplate, and we zoomed in for a look
at the interior. Under a dim ceiling light, Sharky and Rudy were curled up together, each in
a rather snug straitjacket and a locking muzzle. Rudy's head was on Sharky's shoulder, while
Sharky leaned his head on the top of Rudy's. They appeared to be asleep.
I was gobsmacked. “I was absolutely not expecting you, of all people, to ever show me any-
thing, movie, photo, whatever, that was simultaneously so kinky and so adorable. I'm not sure
whether this is a punishment or a reward, but either way, it serves 'em right. How long are
you gonna keep 'em?”
Brent slid forward, once more stretching out on top of me, his forearms crossed behind my
neck, his face nose-to-nose with mine. “Not much longer. Mr. Blossom made some of his grand-
mother's goulash and homemade noodles – it's warming in the oven. They'll be hungry, and
they'll probably need some rest, before I take them to school, tomorrow morning.”
“Mmmm. Frankly, I'm feeling a little peckish, myself, and that sounds and smells like Heaven.
So, um... how long are you gonna keep me?” I asked, not quite expecting the answer I got.
He kissed me, again, then before I realized it, his hand was tightly covering my mouth. He
looked at me affectionately, and said, “Right now, I'm thinking pretty much forever.”
“Shaddap. You're mine, now. All mine. For years, I've watched you going out there and saving
the world and being a shady force for good, and you always telling me, 'Last one, babe – this
has to be done, but I swear, this is it...' And sometimes, not even a week later, you'd disap-
pear again, and I'd hear nothing – nothing – until you were ready to call in one of the Project
protocols. And afterward, the same old 'Last one, babe...' Lather, rinse, repeat.
“I'm not doing that anymore. You belong to me. You want to know who you are, now? Who your
people are, any family – we'll find out. Together. Now, though, we're your family – me,
Blossom, the Project... Hell, even Rudy's calling you 'Unca Deacon', now. He and Sharky and
Blossom all told me how you claimed them, on the yacht – 'your people'. So I'm claiming you –
you are my property. At the bottom of it all... When you breathe in... When you breathe out...
That timeless moment between the two,... remember: you're mine, now. And I'm not letting you
go again. Ever.” He removed his hand and resumed kissing me.
When I had control of my mouth back, I tried, “But I – ”
“Quiet, you,” he said, clapping a hand tightly over my mouth again. “You don't get a vote. I
know perfectly well, I can't keep you locked up like this all the time. You'll still go
charging out there, into the darkness, doing good by doing bad – that's just part of who you
are, I can't change that, I wouldn't, because then you wouldn't be my Deacon. But that doesn't
mean I can't keep you as close to home, and me, as possible, when the world's not about to
come crashing down. So, here's how it's going to be for a while:
“You're gonna keep your lip buttoned unless and until I say. I'll go get you a tray with a
big plate of goulash and noodles, and oh, lord, he made some really amazing, crusty bread –
and another vodka tonic, if you like. And I will feed you. And you will say nothing. Under-
stood? If you behave, we'll talk about getting the 'jacket off you for a while; a little while,
anyway. But if you speak, dinner is immediately over, the muzzle goes on, the tray goes back,
and you stay right here while I go downstairs and get the boys. You'll miss breakfast, then
we'll try again at lunch to see if you can do as I tell you. If you miss three meals in a row,
you'll be staying where Rudy and Sharky are, now. I doubt it'll go that far, but if it does,
we'll go into those rules, then. Got all that?”
I squeaked behind his palm, nodding as well as I could, given the pressure of his hand.
He took his hand away. “Any last words?”
And I wanted to say, I get it – I understand – and you're right. I don't remember all the
shitty things I've done to you, but I do know I've hurt you. And I want to make it up to you,
so yeah, okay, from here on, you're the Boss of Me. I'll do everything I can, anything you
want, for as long as it takes, however long it takes. And when it's all done, when the slate's
cleared... if this is what it takes to stay with you...
I'm in. I still have questions, but they can wait. I'm in.
But I didn't say that, not out loud. I just shook my head. Then I darted my head forward and
kissed him, for a change, to see how he liked it. And apparently, he did.
Just to be on the safe side and make sure I even got as far as the tray, he opened the top
drawer of the nightstand, took out a rather large ballgag and some microfoam tape, strapped
the gag on (a little tightly, I thought), then made an “X” with the tape over that. He growled
low in his throat as he kissed me once more, over the tape, nibbling softly at my neck, just
under my jaw; then, satisfied, he went to get my dinner tray.
The goulash was delicious.
Deacon James will Return in: