Lost Port Royal Part 3 - The Mad Printer
* * *
On the way to Cannon Street, Ackworth finally noticed the terrible symbol squirm on the piece of paper and reach for him an way most unnatural. It came at him and he drew his smallsword and swung at the reaching thing. The sword scraped across the wall, cutting the piece of paper in half. That was when he realized the only way to make sure it never happened again: digest the terrible papers.
He dropped his sword and grabbed the papers, shoving them in his mouth and chewing them. They tasted foul.
“Stop!” Flint shouted. “We already had breakfast!”
“Give me the papers!” Ackworth screamed between bites. “Give me the papers! Give me the papers!”
Flint swung his blunderbuss off his back and aimed at the man, terrified. Ackworth looked at the gun but ignored the man, continuing to rip the papers from the wall and shoving them in his mouth. The ink ran, blackening his mouth.
“Where’s Theo!?!” Flint cried out, tears running down his face.
“Does Theo have papers!?!” Ackworth screamed.
“Calm yourself, Mr. Ackworth!” Fowler shouted at him.
“Does anybody still have papers!” the enraged Ackworth shouted back.
He continued tearing down the flyers on Cannon Street, shoving them into his mouth and nearly choking on the heavy paper and the foul-tasting black ink. Fowler moved to the man, taking out his musket, and tried to club the man with the butt of it. He only managed a glancing blow on the man’s arm. Ackworth ignored him and continued to eat the papers.
“What the hell are you doing!?!” Jeagar said to Fowler.
“I …” Fowler said.
He put his musket back on his back and they all just watched the man eating the papers for a minute and a half or so.
“Are you okay, sir?” Jeagar said when he finally stopped.
Ackworth spit out several pieces of paper, hacking up some that were still in his throat.
“You see?” Jeagar said. “I told you these posters were up to no good.”
“Why did you do that?” Flint said, face wet with tears.
“I don’t know,” Ackworth said.
“Have you gone mad, Mr. Ackworth?” Fowler said.
“Haven’t … haven’t we … yes,” Ackworth said. “Yes.”
He thought upon it.
“It was a rather … intriguing experience,” he said.
“I can imagine,” Fowler said. “You just ate several pieces of paper!”
“Well, let’s go see Joseph Gill!” Ackworth said, his voice cracking.
They continued on to the shop of Joseph Gill and found the place locked up and the shutters closed. They proceeded around the back, through several yards, and found the back door open, the lock broken. The shop inside was dim and they found the man in the corner, staring at the small printing press.
“That must be Joseph Gill,” Jeagar said. “Joseph?”
“Joseph Gill, is that you?” Fowler said.
Jeagar moved into the building but to one side. The others approached the man.
“Joseph, what’s going on here?” Ackworth asked.
The man muttered to himself.
“Joseph, it’s okay,” Fowler said. “There’s nothing here.”
Flint went to the printing press. Jeagar moved to the coin purse.
“Have you seen … the Yellow Sign?” Gill asked, pointing at the press. “I have seen the Yellow Sign.”
“What is the Yellow Sign?” Fowler asked.
“I’ve seen the Yellow Sign,” Gill said. “I’ve seen it and it’s there.”
“What about the coin purse, Joseph?” Ackworth asked.
“The Yellow Sign …” Gill said again.
“The coin purse, Joseph,” Ackworth said.
Flint walked up to the printing press, aiming his blunderbuss at it. He saw the type form with the inverted symbol and it seemed to move a little but didn’t come at him. He thought of shooting the press but realized it would not damage it much. An axe or a hatchet might. He remembered Jeagar carried a hatchet so asked for it.
“Where did you get that coin purse?” Ackworth asked. “Did someone pay you to do this?”
“It’s … it’s the coins,” Gill said. “The coins.”
“Oh, what?” Jeagar said. “These coins?”
He picked up the pouch of gold doubloons.
“Are the coins the Yellow Sign?” Fowler said.
“No!” Gill said. “No! No!”
Jeagar inspected the coins but they looked like typical Spanish doubloons.
“No, it doesn’t look like it,” he said.
“No,” Gill said. “No. No. No. No. The press. It’s the press.”
“Did the press make the coins?” Ackworth said.
“No,” Gill said. “The coins. No. No. No.”
“Who paid you?’ Ackworth said.
“The man!” Gill said.
“What man?” Fowler said.
“The Spanish priest!” Gill said.
“The Spanish priest?” Jeagar said.
“The Spanish priest?” Fowler said.
“He’s from Spain!” Jeagar said as tears flowed form Gill’s eyes.
“Was it the priest on York Street?” Ackworth asked.
Jeagar pocketed the coins.
“He came to me three nights ago,” Gill said. “He had a wallet filled with gold and a request. He wanted … he wanted a thousand printed pieces of paper with a symbol. He worked with me for some hours on Wednesday and Thursday to get the type form. We had to have it just right and then he left him to do the work Thursday night.
“But the symbol … the symbol … it’s alive!”
Gill grabbed Ackworth by the lapels of his jacket.
“Every printing … it reached for me, lunged at me!” Gill said. “Only my speed at the press kept it contained. It was mesmerizing. I couldn’t stop.”
Flint had gotten the hatchet from Jeagar and went over to the press. He started striking the press with the hatchet, startling them all.
“I was awoken Friday morning by the man,” Gill went on, ignoring the noise. “He paid me and took the printed papers. But he left the type form on the printing press! He said it was a ‘gift.’”
He laughed hysterically.
“I can’t leave the shop!” he said. “I locked it up because … it’ll escape! It’ll do terrible things! I know it’s here! It’s waiting for me to leave!”
He looked at Flint over Ackworth’s shoulder.
“Kill it!” he shrieked. “Kill it! Kill the type form! Kill it!”
“I am,” Flint said.
“That’s the press! Not the type form!” Gill screamed. “The type form! The type form!”
“Where is it?” Jeagar said.
Flint went back to destroying the press.
“He’s killing it!” Gill screamed. “Tell him to kill the type form! The type form!”
“Mr. Ackworth, can we set it on fire?” Fowler said. “Would that do it?”
Gill laughed insanely again.
“Kill it!” he screamed. “Kill it!”
Ackworth grabbed the man’s wrists and pulled himself free of the madman. He looked around as Fowler approached the press. He picked up a burlap bag and dumped the paper out of it. Then he headed for the press.
“Mr. Ackworth, hand the bag to me,” Fowler said.
Ackworth ignored him, removing the type form from the machine and shoving it into the bag. Flint continued to chop up the press as Gill giggled and bawled madly.
“You did it, Flint!” Jeagar said.
“I did it,” Flint said.
Fowler went back to Gill and tried to comfort the printer, managing to calm him down somewhat.
“He was a bald man,” Gill muttered to him. “He had a beard and mustache. A priest. Black robes. Spanish. Brown skin and a thick accent. He had fire in his eyes. He said Sodom and Gomorrah was coming soon.”
Someone banged on the front door of the shop.
“Who is it?” Flint said.
Ackworth ran out the back door.
“Joseph Gill, open up this door!” a voice from outside called.
“Joseph Gill from Cannon Street?” Flint asked.
“Open this door, Joseph Gill!” the man on the other side called. “You are under arrest for dissention and for spreading rumors, lies, and creating a riot.”
“One moment,” Flint called.
He and Jeagar fled out the back as Fowler went to the front door. As soon as he opened the door, the red-coated soldiers pushed their way in.
“Joseph Gill!?!” one of them yelled at Fowler.
“I’m not Joseph Gill!” Fowler said.
“You’re under arrest!” the soldier yelled.
“I’m not Joseph Gill!” Fowler yelled.
“Where is Joseph Gill!?!” the man yelled at him.
“He’s right there!” Fowler said, pointing. “He’s that man in the corner.”
“Joseph Gill!” the soldier yelled at the man.
He turned to Fowler.
“You stay where you are!” he said.
He turned back to Gill who laughed insanely at him.
The soldiers took both Gill and Fowler though the latter was released within an hour, narrowly avoiding looking at the terrible Yellow Sign during his questioning when a soldier shoved it in his face and demanded to know what he knew about it. Gill was taken away, screaming for them to please put his eyes out.
Fowler got safely home some time later.
* * *
Ackworth found a lead smith and paid the man to melt down the lead type form. He paid the man a pound and told him to melt it down in the bag. It didn’t take long to melt the type form down, the bag burning up the in the process. He told the smith to keep the lead.
* * *
Jeagar got together with them at dinner that night at the Catt and Fiddle and suggested they stay up that night to look for whomever was putting up the strange signs and sigils.
“Did you destroy the type form?” Fowler asked Ackworth.
The man nodded.
“Good,” Fowler said. “They have Mr. Gill in custody. They had me as well but they let me go.”
“You should have gone out the back,” Ackworth said.
They shared what information they had learned that day, Fowler telling them what the Spanish priest looked like.
“The Spaniards!” Jeagar said.
He suggested they watch the streets that night and catch the priest who was putting up the signs. Flint pointed out that man didn’t have a printing press anymore so there was no point. Jeagar noted the hand drawn sigils they saw two days before but Flint said he couldn’t do it all in one night. When Fowler said he had done that before, the man simply stated they didn’t know if that had all been done in one night.
Ackworth said he’d go visit the other printer in town and Fowler went with him. They found the man had printed some pamphlets and the like but it was obviously unrelated. Ackworth warned him about the strange Spanish priest and the symbol. The printer wanted nothing to do with it. At all. Ackworth paid the man to inform on the Spaniard if he came around and the printer was happy to help. He even opened a drawer to show the man a flintlock pistol and said he would detain him if the gentleman wished, or even shoot him if that was his preference.
“I’ll leave that up to you,” Ackworth said.
They returned to the Catt and Fiddle some time later and discussed watching over the town.
“I’m going with Mr. Jeagar ‘cause he’s going to let me shoot if I have to,” Flint said.
“I’ll accompany you,” Theo said.
“Finally!” Flint said.
His brother stank of sweat and sex.
In the end, they all decided to keep watch through the night.
* * *
There were no new instances of the Yellow Sign being painted or posted in Port Royal on Monday, June 2, 1692. It was another hot and beautiful day in Jamaica. They were all exhausted from staying up through most of the night, avoiding the small groups of roaming soldiers, and looking for any evil-doers and mischief-makers.
Dr. Merriam Leighlin had even less sleep than the others. He had acquired a distinct fear of the dark and so ordered his assistants to keep candles and lanterns burning through the night. When he did try to sleep, he was often awoken by his own screams as he had terrible and terrifying dreams of the Yellow Sign, the King in Yellow, and some horrible city.
When he would awake screaming, one of his assistants would run into the room.
“Are you okay, Master?” the man said.
“Get out!” Dr. Leighlin yelled at the man. “No!”
“Yes, master!” the man cried out, fleeing in panic. “Yes, master!”
This continued through the early morning hours and the physician got little sleep.
That morning, he had his assistants bring his breakfast and he ate on the balcony that overlooked the North Docks. He picked at his food. Nothing tasted good and he was completely exhausted. He watched the people walking by and the ships being unloaded.
He noticed a wagon being driven down the street with a coffin in the back. The driver wore black and had a white, puffy face that made Dr. Leighlin think of a coffin worm. As he passed the balcony, he looked up at Dr. Leighlin and stared at the man as he went by.
It was quite off-putting.
* * *
“I’m going to follow Mr. Jeagar,” Flint Dawson said to his brother Theo when he got up that morning. “Because at least he’s there.”
He left their tiny room without another word.
* * *
They all met for breakfast at the Catt and Fiddle later that morning.
“Flint!” Jeagar said.
“Yes?” Flint replied.
“I found where the captain misplaced your payment.”
“Yeah. It was in strange, Spanish money.”
Jeagar handed Flint half the gold doubloons he’d found in the printer’s house the day before. Ackworth, Fowler, and Flint had all noticed the small coin purse, actually.
“Oh!” Flint said. “Thank you! These are really shiny.”
He looked at the doubloons.
“Wait,” he said. “Hold on a second.”
He bit one of the coins.
“Hey!” he said. “It’s real.”
He looked at Jeagar.
“Where can I even spend these?” Flint said.
“Wherever you want,” Jeagar said.
Flint looked across the table to Ackworth.
“I’m not going to tell him I have money for breakfast because I don’t want to spend it,” he said.
Dr. Leighlin wasn’t eating. He looked shaken.
“Are you okay?” Fowler said.
“You love the goose,” Jeagar said.
Dr. Leighlin let out a shriek.
“Why are you not eating?” Flint said.
“I … I don’t feel like it,” Dr. Leighlin said.
“Can you order something on his money and just give it to me?” Flint said.
“Just order what you want,” Ackworth said.
“I did,” Flint said.
“So, you’re hungry again, Mr. Flint?” Fowler said.
“Always,” Flint replied. “You never know when you’re not going to be able to eat again. Right, Theo?”
“That is so true,” Theo replied.
“I’ve always been able to eat,” Ackworth said.
“Remember that one time when we didn’t eat for three days?” Flint said. “And I almost thought about eating you?”
“Oh ho ho, brother!” Theo said. “Funny times.”
He didn’t like the memory.
“Excuse me,” a man said, stepping up to the table. “Which one of you is looking into this whole sign thing?”
“Uh …” Fowler said.
“Is it you?” the man said.
“No,” Fowler said. “Of course not.”
The man was disheveled and nondescript with messy hair, a beard, and a mustache.
“What sign thing?” Fowler said. “I don’t know anything about this sign thing.”
“I have seen the signs,” Dr. Leighlin said.
“You’ve seen the signs,” the man replied.
“I’ve seen things, sir─” Dr. Leighlin said.
“I believe we’ve all seen the signs,” Ackworth said.
“He wears no mask!” the man said, drawing a dagger and lunging at Dr. Leighlin.
The physician moved to one side and pushed the man’s arm away. Fowler leapt up and rushed the man, punching him solidly in the face. The man stumbled backwards. Dr. Leighlin drew his own knife and tried to cut the man but only tore his clothing. Ackworth drew his smallsword and tried to stab the man, who leapt to one side. Across the table, Flint stood up, pulled the blunderbuss from his shoulder, and blasted the man, blowing off his right arm.
The arm was ripped from the man’s body and he spun around twice before sagging to the ground, dead. A spray of blood spewed all over Dr. Leighlin, Ackworth, and Fowler. Theo had leapt out of his chair and was not touched.
People leapt from their chairs in the tavern, crying out in alarm.
“Oh my God!” one man yelled. “Such a disturbance! I’m trying to eat my breakfast!”
“Look out, it’s that madman!” a woman cried out, pointing at Flint. “He kills people!”
“He had a knife!” another person screamed.
The confusion lasted for nearly 10 minutes before it was worked out the man had drawn a knife and attacked Dr. Leighlin and the gunfire had been in self defense. Peter Litton went to get a mop while Flint carried the corpse outside.
“Sorry for the mess,” Flint called.
Litton picked up the arm and flung it into the street with the body.
Ackworth gave the barkeep some money and told him he wasn’t there. Litton was happy to comply.
Jeagar, meanwhile, searched the body. The man didn’t have any money on him but he did find a piece of paper in his pocket. It was a printed map of Port Royal with nice places on High Street and Lime Street marked with an “x.” They formed a “V” starting where the two streets met and going down perhaps 400 feet along each street, at least according to the scale of feet noted in one corner of the odd map.
“I’m sorry, everyone,” Flint said when he returned to the table.
“It’s all right, Flint,” Theo said. “Not your fault.”
Litton approached the table and told them their breakfast was on the house due to the incident.
“You don’t have to pay, Breakfast Man,” Flint said to Ackworth.
“Look,” Jeagar said, brandishing the map. “Looks like they were going to do something on these streets.”
“Hold on,” Flint said, picking up the map.
“What street is that?” Fowler said.
“What do these ‘x’s mean?” Flint asked.
“There might be treasure!” Jeagar said.
Flint’s eyes opened wide.
“I think I know where this is …” Flint said. “But I can’t read.”
“We’ll have to go after breakfast,” Jeagar said.
Fowler was not really hungry for breakfast anymore. Flint reached across and took the man’s food.
Dr. Leighlin had taken out a handkerchief and wiped the blood off his face. Then he sat once again, taking his brandy and staring off into the distance.
After they ate, they went to the corner of High Street and Lime Street. The wide, sandy street was filled with traffic, not unusual for two of the busiest streets in the port at that time of day. Nothing seemed strange or unusual as they approached the intersection from the north. They continued on to the places the markings seemed to indicate on the map, spreading out. Several of them noticed a divot in the sand in the spots where the markings lay. In those divots, the sand had sunk slightly.
Both Fowler and Flint noticed a couple of Negroes who seemed to be watching the group: a man and a woman. When they saw the two notice them, they turned and walked away. Fowler headed off, following them.
“I think there’s something bad over there we should look at,” Flint said to Jeagar.
Jeagar looked in that direction. There were dozens of people, several houses, and even a few ships visible.
“You mean Sam?” Jeagar said.
“Yeah, I think he saw them too,” Flint said.
Fowler went around the corner as Flint reloaded his blunderbuss in the middle of the street.
The two of them followed Fowler, Theo close behind them, but the man was gone by the time they got to the corner where he had disappeared.
“He has to be around here somewhere,” Flint said. “Let’s just keep looking.”
They wandered away.
* * *
Fowler followed the two Negroes down to Cannon Street where they talked to several other slaves and servants around Joseph Gill’s print shop. After watching them for a while, he casually walked by them in the street, hoping to catch part of the conversation. They seemed to be questioning the people about Joseph Gill and he heard one of the servants tell them the man had gone mad and was arrested for printing heretical pamphlets.
He went back to watching them from a distance.
* * *
Ackworth drew his smallsword and stabbed it into the divot.
“Excuse me, sir!” a man called from behind him.
He looked around to see a wagon being pulled by a horse standing there, trying to get by.
“One moment!” Ackworth called. “I’m investigating here! Here. Take this. Go around me.”
He handed the man two pounds.
“Yes sir!” the man said. “Go around this man! He’ll give you two pounds!”
He pulled his horse to one side and went around the man. Others started to walk towards Ackworth. He quickly stabbed the sword down into the sand, putting as much weight on it as he could. The weapon went down about two feet, nearly to the hilt, and then struck something. It shouldn’t have.
“I’m waiting for my two pounds, sir,” someone behind him said.
“Here’s your two pounds,” Ackworth said, tossing the coins at the man.
As he walked away, he heard a woman clear her throat behind him.
“Oh,” she said. “Um … damn!”
“Sorry,” Ackworth said. “You lost your chance.”
The woman cried a little bit and walked away as Ackworth headed off to buy a shovel. He found Dr. Leighlin wandering around Lime Street, looking at the sand but obviously oblivious to anything there.
Ackworth returned to the spot where he’d found the divot and noticed a red-coated soldier nearby. The man had a musket on his back, the bayonet already mounted. He approached the soldier.
“Yes sir?” the soldier said. “May I help you, sir?”
“I’m doing a big of investigation on these strange occurrences,” Ackworth said. “And I need to do some excavation on this road.”
“On High Street?”
“Yes, just a small, little section of it.”
“On High Street?”
“On the busiest street …”
“… in the whole God damned town.”
You realize … no! No, sir. That’s ridiculous. There’s too much traffic. There’s too many people trying to go back and forth. It’s too busy. I’m sorry. Excavation? What’re you? Some kind of … excavator?”
He looked at the man.
“I’m sorry sir,” the soldier said. “We can’t stop traffic on High Street. It’s a very busy street.”
“We have reason to believe that there are precious mineral deposits underneath the earth,” Dr. Leighlin said.
“There’s sand underneath the earth!” the soldier said.
Dr. Leighlin took out three pounds in coins. The soldier looked at it greedily.
“All right,” the soldier said. “I think that’s all right.”
He pocketed the money.
“Don’t you be taking too long sir,” he said to Ackworth.
“All right,” Ackworth replied.
“Sirs,” the soldier said.
“For the Queen.”
“God bless the King and the Queen.”
Ackworth handed Leighlin a shovel and they went to the spot on the street. As Ackworth began digging, people started to shout at him and curse at him to get out of the way.
“Oh, p*** off!” Dr. Leighlin yelled.
Ackworth just grinned and kept working. Someone threw a rotten tomato at the man but he persevered. After an hour or so of digging and taking abuse, he came to a little circle of basalt about a foot in diameter. Digging a little further revealed it was some kind of pillar or plinth.
“Do you want to come back tonight or do you want to continue?” he asked Dr. Leighlin.
“Get out of the damned way, you stupid git!” someone yelled.
“I honestly can’t take any more of this,” Dr. Leighlin said. “I don’t know why I decided to do this anyway, so … we’ll come back in the morning.”
“I’m gonna whip you upside you’re stupid ugly face!”
“I said ‘p*** off!’”
Dr. Leighlin walked away.
“Fill in that God-damned hole you stupid … pansy!” the man yelled.
Ackworth removed one of his gloves and turned to the man, who was quite small but very loud. He slapped the little man across the face with his glove.
“Bert!” the little man shouted. “Get over here! I got a duel to fight again! Clem! C’mere!”
Two very large men got out of the back of the wagon as the little man lifted his fists and started dancing around.
“C’mon!” he shouted. “C’mon! I’ve got this! Clem, back me up! Bert!”
“Oh, we’ll back you up,” Bert said.
“That’s a pretty pansy move, don’t you think?” Ackworth said.
“Oh! Oh! Coming from a dandy!?!” the little man said. “Coming from a dandy!?! Oh! Oh! I’ve got the moves! I’ve got the moves!”
“I may be a dandy but I’m not a pansy.”
“Bert, punch him in the face a few times!”
“Bert’s gonna punch me in the face! That’s a pretty pansy move! That’s what I’m talking about!”
“Oh, you call me a pansy! I’m insulted, sir!”
The man looked around for something to hit Ackworth with. Unable to find anything, he took of his disgusting, sweaty shirt and slapped the man in the face with it. It left Ackworth’s face dripping wet.
Dr. Leighlin ran back down the street and grabbed Ackworth by the arm.
“Man. My God, what are you doing?” he said to him.
“Are they your seconds?” Ackworth asked.
“They’re my firsts!” the little man yelled.
“Well, then, why are you here?”
“C’mon! Take a swing, you dandy!”
“We haven’t even declared the time and day!”
“It is now! Let’s go!”
“Is it now?”
Ackworth turned and walked away.
“Oh!” the little man called after him. “Leave a hole in the road! Oh!”
“I was going to fill it, but not now!” Ackworth called back.
They yelled insults at the man as he left. He heard others complaining as he and Dr. Leighlin left the scene.
* * *
Jeagar, Flint, and Theo finally found Fowler on Cannon Street. He told them what he was doing. They saw the Negroes talking to other people and, after following them for a little while, Fowler approached one of those people they questioned after they had moved on.
“Out of curiosity, what were they asking you about?” he asked.
“I’m sure I don’t know,” the hapless servant answered. “They want to know what’s happening in Port Royal.”
“Did they say anything about the symbols?”
“Well, they were asking about them. They seemed quite concerned.”
“Quite concerned with …?”
“With the symbols.”
“In what way?”
“They were worried.”
“They were worried about the symbols.”
“That’s how it seemed to me.”
He learned the two were asking about the symbols and about the strange occurrences in Port Royal. He returned to the others and told them what he learned and the three continued to follow them at a distance. They told him about what they had learned as well.
Through the rest of the day, the two men questioned people around Port Royal, mostly restricting themselves to servants and slaves in the town. At the end of the day they went to a house where they had probably a rented room.
* * *
Dr. Leighlin saw the strange, pale, puffy-faced man several times during the day. At least once, the man was just staring at him from across the street before he moved on. Once he was sitting on the side of the street. Another time he was walking by.
* * *
Eventually, they all got together around dinnertime.
“Hello Flint,” Ackworth said. “Would you like to dig a hole tonight?”
“Why, Breakfast Man?” Flint said.
“Oh, just to dig it.”
“What’s in it?”
“Well … we don’t know yet. It’s a surprise.”
“My brother shall dig no holes unless there’s compensation, my good man,” Theo said.
“Well, of course there’ll be compensation!” Ackworth said.
“You’ll have to pay up firsthand!” Theo said.
“No!” Flint said. “Wait! I don’t want money. Give me breakfast and lunch tomorrow!”
“We’ve got a deal!” Ackworth said.
Theo just glared at the man.
* * *
Flint, Theo, Jeagar, and Ackworth returned to the spot late that evening, well after midnight. Ackworth pointed out the spot and they dug for two hours to uncover it again. They found a small, basalt pillar, perhaps a foot in diameter and six feet tall. The pit they ended up digging was about eight feet deep. The pillar did not appear to be attached to anything so they dragged it out of the ground.
They filled the hole back in and manhandled the pillar back to Ackworth’s house. Ackworth examined it closely and found it was roughly made but very solid.
Flint asked if he could sleep at Ackworth’s house that night and the man obliged him, giving him a guest room. Flint enjoyed the feather bed.
* * *