High Iron **chapter 12**

                       Vicksburg is a hard Road to Travel,

                                Goodbye Louisiana

    The Afternoon sun shown bright and warm at Manchac as the Water Witch sat tied to the half rotting wharf by the Railroad lift bridge, no one on board yet stirred and only thin trail of black smoke rose up from her funnels. The fires almost dead her boilers full of almost cold water and no boiler pressure. The old steamboat like her crew rested. Her one unwelcome guest was not as he sat in the small room above the toilets below. His body  dull ache every time he tried to move; his legs were on  fire as were his wrists tied above his head to the steam pipe. Scotland O' Neal had only one thought on his mind: escape and revenge! well, maybe it was two, but his mind churned them into one.

    The crew of the Water Witch didn't see the slim 4-6-0 and her train ease across the Manchac draw bridge and stop at the little two room depot to drop off four passengers and pick up one gray haired little lady as the baggage clerk threw off twenty copies of the New Orleans Daily Picayune and ten copies of the New Orleans Times Democrat with the early news of the class two hurricane that had caused minor damage to the city and some flooding along the 17th street canal when the earthen levee broke. Scotland O'Neal who was in pure agony cramps ran over his body like spider webs and his balls now were swollen to the size of baseballs fire and pain coming from his crotch  made his mind see one thing in perfect clarity the color red of his revenge on the crew of the Water Witch . He let out a horse laugh then started coughing tasting blood. He was dying for a drink of Irish Whiskey and a good cigar and the two in his vest pocket teased him just out of reach their green stubs poking inches lower than his neck would bend his tongue touched one but then it fell deeper into the pocket and he cursed again.

    Blackbeard awoke in his cabin around noon and yawned, then stood and stretched his muscular back and arms before dressing. He combed his black hair and beard looking into a small wall mirror before grabbing his silver open faced pocket watch he wound the stem and hooked the chain on to his navy blue vest. He was about to walk out the cabin but then turned and walked over to the big oak desk and opened the drawer. He pulled out his modified Navy Colt and checked the cylinder to make sure all six were loaded and slipped it into his pocket before heading out into the sunshine. He started checking for storm damage and knew the jack staff and flag both were gone no big deal he had meant to replace those a long time ago. He then opened the shutters, no broken glass but a few cracks from the hailstorm . He strolled down the hurricane deck roof and stopped at Jack's door and peeked inside and smiled all three still sleeping Ryan with his blonde head on Jack's chest and Bo with his arm wrapped around both of them. He quietly closed the door and looked up  at the tall smoke stacks no guy wires broken or the iron spacers between the stacks high up. He smiled again at the small trail of gray wood smoke and knew Cookie was busy at the cook tove.

    The deck hands were up and busy when Blackbeard reached the boiler deck with a steaming cup of coffee in hand and his pipe in his mouth they smiled and greeted him as they cleaned off the deck and unloaded the cargo onto the wharf. They asked where was Jack and smiled when Blackbeard explained to them the story that unfolded last night as the hurricane blew. They also wondered what else might of gotten blown besides the six tone whistle on the pilot house roof.

    Jack soon awoke and quietly dressed so he wouldn't awaken Ryan and Bo and borrowed the leather pouch on the table that held the gold coins taken the night before from Scotland O'Neal.  Bo's pay in the deal that had gone so wrong. He left a short note on the table under the silver plated evolver.

    "Bo, I have gone into Manchac to buy our angel new clothes to cover up his horns and cute tail. Love Jack."

    The crew grinned when he came down the stairs to the boiler deck and while he explained to Blackbeard what he was going to do. Jack  then handed the cargo invoices to Blackbeard then headed down the gangplank onto the wharf. He turned West and headed into town.

    Manchac, perched on the Western edge of Lake Pontchartrain was a sleepy fishing village and railroad town built in the 1850's by the creation of the New Orleans, Jackson and Great Northern railroad as a tank town to refuel the early wood burning locomotives, tiny 10 and 20 ton locomotives built by the Baldwin Locomotives works in Pennsylvania.

    Jack strode off the wharf and onto the hard dirt packed street  to the little wooden depot and picked up one copy each of the two newspapers tossing the slim white news butcher a quarter giving him a hardy fifteen cent tip. The boy smiled and thanked Jack. Everyone in Manchac knew  the crew of the Water Witch especially the tall handsome 20 year old mud clerk, Jack. Jack stood 6'2" tall and weighed 146 pounds all muscle and no fat with hazel eyes and raven black hair. He had a easy look on life with a smile that could melt a heart of stone O'Neal had tried to buy him from Kette but the savvy old riverboat captain wouldn't sell. Jack was forever grateful and loyal to Blackbeard, Everyone knew he was Blackbeard's adopted son. No one who knew Blackbeard would lay a hand on Jack if they wanted to see the next sunrise. He passed Pontchartrain House a wood framed two story hotel and restaurant. The best place to get a hot meal when Cookie wasn't at the wood stove on the Water Witch next on the street was the hardware store, beyond that was the merchentile  store. Manchac only had three streets and several alleyways plus several smaller dirt roads leading to the small shipyard, foundry and sawmill.

    Jack walked through the open glass doors of the Merchentile store and spoke with the owner's wife about three sets of boy's clothes for a slim eleven year old and a pair of patent leather shoes; then he asked the owner if he still had the one US flag in stock. The owner replied "Yes I do."

    "Great," Jack said, "I will take it for the Water Witch." The owner removed it from the counter drawer and wrapped it in brown paper as his wife brought the three sets of boy's clothes and the pair of shoes. "Say do you have a nice curve stemmed pipe in stock?"

    "Yes I do, made in Kentucky for $2.50. I didn't know you smoked."

    "I'll take it, but it's not for me, it's for a friend." Jack said as he pulled out the leather pouch. The owner rang up  The purchases. "$20.16 Jack," and put them in a thick brown paper bag.

    Jack paid with a twenty-five dollar gold piece and the owner gave him back his change in silver and copper which he put back into the leather pouch as he tucked the bag under his arm and headed out the door waving to the store owner and his wife.

    His next stop was Maude Deberry's place located on the lake shore. Maude's boy Jimmy  was out in the front dirt yard naked except for a worn out pair of pants that ended above the knees and a set of once red suspenders holding them on his thin muscular frame.

    Jack had always liked the freckled red headed boy of 15. Jimmy was tall with very little fat and completely tanned. Jack knew this from first hand experience many a time he'd seen young Jimmy out fishing or swimming naked as the day he was born out on some remote stretch of lake or island, almost as smooth as Ryan back, legs. chest, ass with only a very light red growth around his crotch not mention he was hung like a young colt.

    "Hey, Jack Ma's gone up tha lake to a birthing, but she said your clothes was all washed and ready. They are inside the house she won't be home until sometime tomorrow." Jimmy smiled.

    "Hey Jim, and thanks I figured you be gone fishing with your ma not around to give you chores to do." Jack smiled back.

    "I'd thought about it, but I just finished chopping firewood for the cook stove and the wash pots, also I saw the Water Witch at dock. So we thought it best that I stuck around in case you came for your stuff and here you are so I guess she was right."

    "Yeah guess she was, She didn't want to miss her five dollar gold piece. I know how she hates paper money."

    "Ya, she do hate it, says it don't feel like real money and it tears up so easy. She makes me check every pocket twice now when someone brings her something to wash." Jimmy was still smiling as he brushed the long red curls from his sea blue eyes and wiped the sweat from his forehead, before lifting the double headed axe and slamming it into the chopping block. "Well come on in Jack and I will fetch your stuff for you." Jim said turning towards the cabin.

    Jack followed Jimmy into the four room cabin that was neat and clean. His clothes were sitting on the small hand carved round table in the living room. A light breeze ruffled the curtains as it blew in off the lake.

    "You been shopping for new stuff this afternoon?" Jimmy asked as he bent over to pick up the stub of a pencil off the floor. After eying the bundle under Jack's arm.

    Jack eyed the full round ass of Jimmy's almost visible through the thin fabric of his pants and spoke, "Yeah I have Jimmy but not for myself. We got two new crew members last night, one arrived hog tied and almost naked."

    Jimmy whistled, "Almost naked? why for Lord's sake?" His eyes growing wide.

    "He is a eleven year old boy named Ryan and someone tried to sell him to the captain. The other one is my age and was the helper of the bastard that tried to sell Ryan." Jack said as he watched Jimmy mark through his name on his ma's list of wash customers. Jack sat his bundle and pulled a five dollar gold coin from his pocket and tossed it to Jimmy to put in the little iron cash box she kept hidden.

    "Lord have mercy!" Jimmy said as he caught the gold piece and bit down on it to make sure it was real, then blushed. "Sorry it is a habit. I know it is good coming from you, but you know how some people are."

    "Yeah I do Jimmy, I remember when you got jipped by that fancy dude when you sold him some fish when you was ten." Jack smiled.

    "Yep, I learned that lesson fast on the first try trust no one you don't know." Jimmy let out a musical laugh. "Want to join me on the back porch for a cool drink of spring water also it is a bit cooler with the breeze from the lake."

    "Sure," Jack said thinking he would greatly enjoy both views for a change, who knows what the opportunity might bring. He was enjoying this visit greatly with out Maude trying to get into his pants. Maude was not only the wash lady but also Manchac's full time whore. Jack followed Jimmy through the kitchen to the back porch over looking the lake.

    "Jack, what is it like living on a great big steamboat and traveling back and forth to the big city? Ma says New Orleans is an awful place full of wicked people." Jim asked as he lowered the oaken bucket down into the brick lined cistern on the porch to draw up the cool spring water, then continued. "I have never been on a steamboat or a train before in my life."

    "Well Jimmy, not all of New Orleans is evil, like everywhere else you have both good and evil people; even here in Manchac you have people that follow the law and God's will and help each other out like good neighbors. Then you have the cheaters, crooks, thieves and other low lifes." Jack took the dipper from Jimmy and drank deeply, enjoying the crisp, clean, taste.

    "So this bad man who tried to sell Ryan, is one of the bad apples? Why would anyone want to sell a lil child for?" Jimmy asked refilling the tin dipper, drinking then pouring the rest down his back shivering from the coolness.

    "Jimmy it is hard to explain why people do certain things like sell their own children, I was sold as a kid by fate Captain Kette bought me. I don't know who my parents were but it was Ryan's parents who for some unknown reason sold him to Scotland O'Neal as a sex slave."

    "YOU MEAN HE was sold for sex?" Jimmy's eyes went wide with shock. "I knew ma did it at times for extra money with some of the handsome foundry workers and some of the rich men, hell she is staying with Old Man Thompson tonight since his wife left this morning on the morning train to Baton Rouge to see her sick sister, but she would never do it with a boy. She even said some men would pay for my cute butt."

    "Well, Jimmy, some men like sex with young boys, just as most like it with young women and their wives." Jack paused for a moment then continued. "I like sex with boys and men more than I ever did with the female whores I have had in my life including the one night I slept with your ma. I am in love now with a man now and falling for a boy." Jack said watching Jimmy's expression as it went from shock and awe to surprise.

    "You do? You are? You did?  but Father Goodson says it is a sin to make love out of wedlock.

    Killing a man is a sin, so is stealing and cheating, but in my eyes and allot of others loving someone who loves you back is not one in my book. Be it a boy or a girl." Jack said still watching Jimmy he noticed the bulge forming in the front of Jimmy's trousers.

    "I guess so Jack, I don't put much stock in the good father since he won't let moma or me inside his church. Jack, what does it feel like to be loved by another someone?"

    "What does it feel like? Well it is hard to describe, it gives you a warm feeling inside like a mothers embrace, a hot cup of coffee on a cold winter's night. You feel safe and comfortable, a caring soul when you feel all alone, it makes you feel special."

    Jimmy stood in silence, dipper paused halfway to his lips. "wow, love is all of that?" He asked and took a sip before pouring the rest over his head letting the rest wash over his naked chest and back.

    "Jimmy wouldn't it be easier to jump in the lake to bath?" Jack smiled hoping the boy would take the cue.

    "Yeah it would." Jimmy smiled as his long fingers slipped under the suspenders letting them slip off his shoulders, his pants fell to his ankles and Jimmy smiled as Jack let a soft whistle escape his lips. "hell Jack it ain't that big and he's not fully awake yet." Jimmy laughed and his half hard cock bounced the pinkish head still covered by it's velvet sheath of skin.

    "Only half awake huh?" Jack grinned, "hell I know some men who would die to have theirs that big hard." 

    Jimmy smiled and laughed as he finished stepping out of his pants. "You keep talking about wild naked boys and you will see his full glory." Jimmy reached down and stroked his half hard uncut piece of boy meat. "Ma, says I am just a baby compared to poppa."

    "Son of a bitch, Jimmy your dad must have been one hell of a man." Jack said taking his time to soak in the site of Jimmy's handsome body.

    "I guess he was Jack, he was killed not long after I was born when the foundry blew up. Jimmy said as he walked down the wooden steps to the pathway to the small fishing wharf on the lake. "Follow me and we can talk while I clean up."

    "I wouldn't miss this chance in the world, but I got two cabin mates waiting on my return." Jack said as he followed behind. "Now Bo this is a full moon over lake Pontchartrain and it ain't even night time."  

    They made it to the wharf and was bathed in bright sunlight. Jimmy knelt and felt the water. "Not to bad." he said and dived in with a splash that almost soaked Jack. Jimmy came up sputtering. "Sorry Jack, if you want you can join me."

    "Hmm, that is not an bad idea." Jack sat down  and began to strip as Jimmy watched from the lake smiling ear to ear.

"Damn Jack your not to small yourself." Jimmy said eying Jack's hard member. "It sure can't be my scrawny body that is giving you such a thrill."

    Jack let out a deep laugh "Well it sure ain't the surrounding area for damned sure." Jack dove into the lake and came up sputtering and spitting water. "Bloody lake feels like it is full of icicles  and little Jack ain't so excited now. not with ice dangling off the family jewels." He splashed Jimmy which started a splashing, dunking, groping match that lasted over an hour before a truce was called and they both climbed out of the water to dry off on the wooden deck.

    Chilled skin soon grew warm and dry as Jimmy and Jack talked and casual friends became true friends all thanks to perfect timing of a woman's birth of a child. Jack slowly dressed as the sun started its decent from its peak as they walked back to the cabin where Jimmy pulled a fresh pair of trousers from the clothes line.

    "Say Jimmy with your maw gone, you want to meet Bo and Ryan and have supper with us on the Water Witch?

    "Sure sounds like fun to me." Jimmy said as he buttoned his shirt and tucked it into his trousers before fastening them. "Let me grab my shoes and cap."

    Soon both were on their way strolling through Manchac, Jack with his bundles under his arms and long legged Jimmy keeping pace. By the time they made it to the wharf the deckhands were relaxing in the sun or the shade of the boiler deck playing cards and smoking their pipes while others were reading and some were swimming in the lake cooling off and getting clean. Jack saw Ryan and Bo up on the hurricane deck roof and waved as some of the deckhands whispered about Jack had gone cherry pick'n again and laughed when he blushed and smiled. He then introduced Jimmy to them and they welcomed him aboard. Some openly checked him out, one hairy chested German tlicked his lips and groped his crotch, throwing Jimmy a minor shock. Jack smiled and told Otto to behave and go find him a tree of proper vintage and laughed before grabbing Jimmy and leading him up the broad stairs to the hurricane deck.

    Ryan was practically bouncing on his heels waiting on Jack to reach the hurricane roof where the Texas cabins were perched. "Jack, what took you so long? We found your note and I had to read it to Bo. What is this crap about new clothes to cover my bloody horns and cute tail huh?" Ryan fell silent when he saw Jack wasn't alone and blushed as he hid his almost naked body behind Bo.

    "Cool your boiler little one before you pop a safety valve." Jack smiled and tussled Ryan's curly blonde hair. "Bo, this is Jimmy Deberry Maude's son, Jimmy this here is Bo the one I told you about." Jimmy smiled.

    "Nice to meet you Jimmy," Bo said as he shook Jimmy's hand.

    "Very nice to meet you too Bo, Jack has told me a lot about you." Jimmy said returning Bo's handshake.

    "What about me?" Ryan asked in a meek voice still hiding behind Bo's legs.

    "Did you hear something Bo?" Jack smiled as he asked the question.

    "Nope maybe it was the timid mouse hiding behind me." Bo said as he grabbed Ryan and pulled him around in front. "Jimmy this is Ryan our suddenly shy, satanic little angel."

    "Nice to meet you too Ryan," Jimmy said and held out his hand.

        Ryan reached out his own small hand and shook Jimmy's much stronger one. "Nice to meet you too Jimmy and as you can see I have no horns on my head."

        "No you don't but you got a nice stub in front of your jockeys and a very cute tail," Jimmy smiled as Ryan flashed him a look before smiling back broadly. They all laughed at Jimmy's remark.

    "JACK MY BOYO!" glad to see you didn't get lost in the bustling city of Manchac. I thought I was going to have to send out a search party and tell you to meet us at the boat dock." Blackbeard chuckled and smiled "nice to meet you Jimmy. I see Jack has been cherry pick'n again when the keeper is away." He turned towards the pilothouse and shouted "CAST OFF!!"

    "Jimmy looks like your going on your first steamboat ride." Jack turned. "com' n Ryan time to try out your new clothes unless your going down to supper dressed like that. I can't promise that I can save your cute tail from some of the deckhands especially Otto."

    "Otto?" Ryan asked as they walked toward the cabin.

    "A big hairy German deckhand that loves little blonde boys but he has an eye out on Jimmy too. So I thinks he is looking for some fresh boy meat." Jack said as he opened the cabin door.

    EEK! Bo will protect me." Ryan cried as he tried to hide behind Bo. "Jimmy can play with Otto after supper."

    Jimmy frowned deeply, " aww shit. I wanted to play with a cute little horned devil." Jack and Bo laughed, as he pushed open the door and entered the sun lit cabin.

    "That was almost nice, except for calling me a devil Jimbo." Ryan said as he crossed the floor and hopped up on the bunk frame and sat down.

    "Jimbo, huh, you lil squirt, you must be blind I ain't black as coal smoke or darker than Mississippi Mud." Jimmy turned his back to Ryan and dropped his pants to moon Ryan.

    "Bo whistled "Full moon over Lake Pontchartrain  in the afternoon and I ain't facing the window."

    Jack laughed, "A fine full moon at that, the way Ryan is staring and almost drooling."

    Jimmy yanked his pants back up. "My ass is worth twenty golden dollars to some and yes I have been offered that and more."

    "Jack how much does Otto pay?" Bo asked filling his pipe with tobacco.

    "I have no clue Bo why for?"

    "I need twenty bucks that's why and I figured we could rid ourselves of a little blonde haired devil and keep Jimmy." Bo laughed deep in his chest as smoke rings rose from his pipe.

    "Hmm, I can find out, and we won't need these clothes Otto likes his toys well tanned." Jack chuckled.

    "You wouldn't Jack would you? Please say no... Da sold me once already.." Tears formed in Ryan's blue eyes and began to stream down his cheeks.

    Before Bo or Jack could reply Jimmy did. "Aww Ryan, they be just playing, I wouldn't let them sell you to that ugly beast of a man if I was starving. Even if it meant me stealing ma's cash box for vittles to eat."

    "That's right little one no one in this cabin is for sale, not now not ever!"  Jack said as he grabbed Ryan into a bear hug and Bo and Jimmy joined in as Jimmy reached around and pinched Ryan's rear.

    "Hey hands off the rear until I get to know you Jimmy." Ryan broke into a smile and giggled.

    "Time to see if these new clothes will fit our angel, it won't be long before supper." Jack said as he reached for the bundle on the small table.


    Ryan beamed when he saw the new clothes and stripped off his old jockeys to try on a fresh pair not caring who saw him in his glory. Jack sat at the small table smiling and moved the smaller bundle to the side. "A gift for the Water Witch since she lost her old flag last night. This is for you Bo a officer on a steamboat needs a proper pipe."

    Bo thanked Jack by placing a soft kiss on his lips, "thanks sweet heart, how much did it cost O'Neal?"

    "None of your business it came out of your new purse, so did those nice new clothes our angel is now wearing. You can wear some of mine until we can buy you some in New Orleans."

    "That sounds good to me, good thing I didn't fall in love with a fat boy." Bo chuckled as he filled his new pipe from his pipe. "Time to Christen it officially."

    "A fat boy? Why I should..."

    Everyone laughed including Jack.

    Pete sounded the landing call as the Water Witch tied up at the boatyard, and the gangplank was lowered. Ryan now dressed and beaming ear to ear sat down to try on his new shoes, they were a snug fit but he knew it wouldn't take him long to break them in. "Thanks Bo and Jack."

    "You're most welcome lil one." Jack said as he walked over to the bunk frame and reached behind it to where some leather bound books sat on a dust free shelf. Jack pulled down a thick volume titled "Life on the Mississippi." Written by the most famous of all riverboat men Mark Twain, about his days as a cub pilot on the great river and of his last trip down it and how much it had changed over the years. Behind the book was a small cubbyhole and inside it was a leather bound box. "you're almost dressed." Jack said as he dusted off a dark blue bibbed cap with a brass plaque on the front. He turned and placed it on Ryan's head. "Welcome home Ryan !" Jack hugged him and smiled as he stepped back.

    Ryan pulled the cap from his head and read the words on the brass plaque. "Asst. Mud Clerk steamboat Water Witch." He stood there silently and smiled as tears of joy flowed down his scrubbed cheeks. "I am home again." He whispered almost to quiet for anyone to hear but all in the room heard his words as clear as the brass bell. Jack sat down and pulled Ryan into his lap.

    "Blackbeard gave it to me after he adopted me and I became one of the crew, and now I am passing it along. He welcomed me and I cried just as hard or harder in front of the full crew but no one said a word but they all smiled. I will get Bo one that will fit him, but that one was made for a boy A very special boy."

    The big brass bell clanged, calling the crew to supper. "Com'on boys time to eat."  Jack said as Ryan stood up and adjusted his new prized cap and smiled again. Bo and Jimmy were smiling to.

    "What a handsome set of officers to be dining with." Bo said smiling as the afternoon sun danced across his face as they stepped outside.

    "Now that he is wearing that there cap he might be to good to want to be friends with me." Jimmy frowned as they walked in the Southern sun.

    "No Jimmy I would still like to be your friend, very much so." Ryan said as he hugged the older boy around his waist.

    Is that the proper behavior for one of my officers?" Captain Blackbeard boomed from behind them then laughed as Ryan jumped back and almost bumped into him.

    "No captain it isn't and I think he needs a spanking, or let him sleep with Otto." Jack laughed.   

    "Aww Capt'n papa, I was just hugging a new friend." Ryan smiled his best boyish smile.

    "Now, Jack my boy I don't think we need to spank or make him sleep with a bear, unless that bear is his captain." Blackbeard smiled. "Glad to see you kept your first cap my boy and it fits another special boy very nicely."

    "Yes it does dad." Jack beamed and held out the small bundle wrapped in brown paper. "A gift from your boys Capt'n for the Water Witch."

    "A gift for the Water Witch and her captain." Blackbeard slowly unwrapped the bundle and smiled when he saw the flag. "Thank you my lads." and he wrapped them all in his powerful arms including Jimmy. "Let's eat, I understand Cookie did something special for tonight."

    "Something special?" Ryan asked as he walked between Jack and Blackbeard.

    "We need one of those camera's for a photograph." Bo said "three fine officers, a perfect father and his sons to grace the cover of one of those true life magazines." 

    "Don't leave yourself out Bo. We got to get you a cap made and some proper clothing."

    "Capt'n I didn't think deckhands got caps with brass writing on them" Ryan chuckled.

    Blackbeard popped Ryan's butt. "He is an officer and my Jack ain't going to fall in love with a mere deckhand son."

    Ryan had jumped from the sting but smiled when Blackbeard called him son. He would never forget this day ever.

    "Captain permission to fall in love with your youngest son?" Jimmy boldly asked.

    Blackbeard stopped dead in his tracks and paused before he smiled and spoke. "If Ryan wants it I don't mind one bit."

    Jimmy smiled at Ryan and the boy smiled back.

    "Bo, now that is love at first sight. The same thing hit me when I first saw you." Jack kissed Bo on the cheek and then felt a sting on his butt.

    Blackbeard winked and then began to whistle a tune New Orleans Romance as they walked along the deck.

    They walked towards the bow of the Water Witch and down the narrow stairs to the hurricane deck that once held the grand saloon and the finely decorated passenger cabins that now were bare and empty except for a select few still fixed up for the occasional passenger going to lakeside villages not served by the railroad.

    "What's the surprise for supper?" Ryan asked again as he looked around the long cabin dreaming of what it looked like the night he was born eleven years ago. When there was paying passengers still riding the steamer on a daily basis before the railroad finally took so much of it away forever.

    A large oak table sat at the end of the cabin already laid out for the captain's mess; eight plates of pure clean china, plus matching silver silverware and two tall stemmed glasses were set at each place. Ryan and Jimmy looked quite surprised. Blackbeard slapped the two boys on their backs. "What did you expect? Tin plates and mugs. The Water Witch ain't that poor yet my boys. Now if you want you can eat on the boiler deck with the deckhands, but I don't think Otto needs a fork and knife to cut the tender meats he likes to swallow best. Both of them turned red as sugar beets as everyone else within hearing range bust into gales of laughter.

    Both boys shook their heads. "No captain father, I can get used to the finer things in life again and eating and sleeping on a hard deck isn't one of those things." Ryan replied. Blackbeard smiled as he took his seat at the far end of the table and Jack motioned Bo to sit on the right side with him and Ryan and Jimmy to sit one the left side with Matt while Pete sat at the other end.

    Cookie rolled out a serving tray piled high with silver domes to keep the food warm as two young black boys followed close on his heels with pitchers of drinks the ice clinking softly inside. "Well capt'n and young masters I see our young guest is all cleaned and properly dressed now for his first proper meal aboard our fine vessel. "

    "Yes he is Matt and knock off the fake accent." Pete said as he adjusted his vest.

    "Yes sar Mast'r Pete, would you also like for me to save you the softer pages of the Sears catalog to wipe your royal arse on after you finish supper." Pete said as he gestured a mock bow with his hand. Ryan and Jimmy cracked up laughing as Cookie's helpers walked around the table pouring water and iced tea as Cookie sat a big bowl of oyster and shrimp stew in the center of the table along with many fresh vegetables and a pone of hot buttered cornbread and then sat out a plate of baked new potatoes with butter and a fresh sour cream. "Captain do you wish for coffee tonight after your meal or will it be Brandy for the officers tonight." Jack asked as he took a drink of water.

    "Brandy tonight since it is a special occasion tonight. Blackbeard replied picking up his spoon. Cookie nodded and motioned for his two boys to come with him as he walked out of the cabin after parking his little four wheel cart in a corner.

    "Cookie sure was silent tonight." Matt said as he helped himself to the cornbread as Pete dipped into the stew.

    "Ya he was." Pete replied as he handed the serving spoon   to Matt, soon all of them had their plates piled high with food and they ate in almost silence each deep into their own thoughts. Ryan and Jimmy scanned the cabin as they slowly ate the wonderful spicy food and Ryan couldn't remember the last time he had finer or something else to drink at supper besides water.

    "So Matt have you and Pete gotten the list finished for all the repairs we need to make onboard? Blackbeard asked as he lifted another spoonful of stew to his lips.

    "Yes sir capt'n, we got four panes of glass out of the pilothouse, the green navigation lamp is missing and the chief engineer is reporting boiler number two has sprung a nasty leak also the hail has knocked off most of the rest of the paint."

    "Wow all of that from last night? Ryan asked after Matt had finished.

    "Yes all of that my boy plus more I am afraid." Blackbeard replied lifting his spoon to his lips.

    "More?" Ryan looked around the cabin not believing his ears but the look on Blackbeard's face and the pilots told him  it wasn't good at all.

    "Where's the engineer?" Ryan asked between bites of food, Jim ate in silence along with Bo it was the youngest of the group doing all the question asking tonight it seemed.

    "Down on the boiler deck in his office going over the technical drawings of the boilers it seems number two sprung a very bad leak and he is very worried about it. So he took a light supper on our way here to the dock now he is busy at work again."

    "Wow not good." Ryan frowned as worry creased his young brow.

    "Noth'n to worry about lil one this old boy is in god hands these Cajun boat workers built this boat at this dockyard and they will keep her afloat come hell or high water." Blackbeard smiled as he asked for a second helping of vegetables.

     Soon supper was finished and Cookie returned as if a silent bell had sounded somewhere deep inside the kitchen and he and his two boys cleared away the table and cups of fine cherry Brandy was poured Ryan stared at the bottle trying to read the foreign language on the label but couldn't cipher out the words.

    "Made in Russia my lil shipmate. Some of the best in the world that ever touched my lips." Matt smiled.

    "Where is Russia is it close to here?" Ryan asked.

    "No my lil shipmate Russia is way across the Atlantic ocean in Europe far far away."

   "Wow thanks Matt. I am learning something new every day and at night too it seems."

    Everyone laughed as Cookie poured everyone a cup full of the dark liquid including Ryan and Jimmy. "Dranks it slow my young captain's it goes down smooth like mother's sweetest milk but burns your gullet like a stone of blazing coal." Cookie said and smiled as each lad lifted his cup to smell the sweet liquor.

    "Now Cookie will you please bring out the surprise  for our young mud clerk." Blackbeard asked as he sipped from his china cup.

    "Certainly capt'n" Cookie vanished and in a few moments was rolling out the large covered serving tray again and stopped at the head of the table to remove the cover to reveal a large vanilla cake with white icing covering the top and perched in the middle was a tin steamboat with two blazing candles.

    "Now Ryan come make your wish and blow out the candles, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MY SON!" As Ryan walked to the head of the table tears began to stream down his face and Blackbeard hugged him in his powerful arms. "This is your home for as long as you wish it to be and Jimmy can come visit anytime he wants to berth on board or fish from her bow and I won't even charge him passage."

    "Thank you sir." Jimmy said slowly sipping the cherry brandy.

    "Most welcome Jimmy my boy." Blackbeard replied.

    "Now Ryan make your wish before the candles melt into your smoke stacks..."


    Damn, why is the cabin so cold and so bright, it should be dark outside and why in the fuck does my back hurt so bad? His mind wondered. Ryan slowly opened his eyes to the bright April sun and squinted as the sun blinded his vision but he saw two figures hovering over him as hunters did over fallen prey. Who where they his mind asked in a feverish tone.

 "Da, he is coming around" Brian said as he bent over and gently touched Ryan's sweating forehead "and he's got a very powerful fever he's burning up."

    "Son we need to get him to the house and call Doc. Martin he will be able to tell us what is wrong. Do you think you can tote him up the hill to our house on Cherry street?" John asked his son.

    "I think so da." Brian replied as he continued to lean over the boy. A steamboat whistle sounded its landing call and both turned to watch as it began to ease up to the city dock. The boiler deck looked like it had been on fire and from some of the still smoking wood it had and recently.

    The boy watched wide eyed at the steamer. "Where am I?" He asked in a hoarse whisper. Where's the Water Witch?"

    "Young man you on the dock at Vicksburg, Mississippi and I never heard of a boat by such name as you just asked about. What is your name? John Peterson asked as he leaned over to help Ryan to his feet.

    "Ryan Parsons, sir assistant mud clerk onboard the lake steamer Water Witch ."

    "Your a long way from any lake big enough to hold a steamboat, but your very sick and weak so my son here Brian is going to take you to our home and get you well then we will find out about your boat, OK."

    "Thank you sir, but where is my bag?" Ryan asked his throat sore and dry.

    "I haven't seen any bag. What does it look like." Brian asked holding on to Ryan to keep him from falling.

    "A dark blue one long with my name on it in gold thread and the boat's name as well. I had it when I was walking through a  railroad tunnel here in town." Ryan began to sag as the Steamboat dropped her gangplank and Ryan jumped at the noise. I will have a section gang look for it but now you need rest and a doctor's care." John said as he turned "Brian get him to the house and call Doc Martin."

    "Yes da I will."  Brian said putting his powerful arms around Ryan's waist. "Com'n my friend let's get you home and cleaned up." Brian said leading Ryan across the tracks and the brick street before stopping at the bottom of the steep hill. "Rest for a moment this is going to be a long slow climb." Brian turned to watch his father vanish inside the station and one of the pilots debark from the steamer and head towards them.

    The man quickly crossed the street his graying black hair down to his shoulders his blue vest dirty but neatly buttoned. "Afternoon young man can you tell me where a tired riverboat pilot can wet his whistle and feed his stomach in this fine town?"

    "Yes sir, there's Molly's restaurant on Mullberry street one street below Cherry it's located near the courthouse." Brian replied.

    "Thank you young man. Name is Robert Parson pilot on the steamer Grey Oak." He held out his hand.

    "Brian Peterson sir, and this my new friend Ryan." Brian replied.

    "Nice to meet you both." Robert replied. "Your friend doesn't look well young Brian."

    "No sir, he isn't he got a bad fever and a sore throat I was just pondering the best way to get him up the bluff when you came along."

    "How about if I give you a hand in thanks for helping out a stranger in search of better grub than I had on my last port call.

    "Thanks sir, that would be most grateful."

    Robert stepped to the other side of Ryan and put his arm around the boy and they began the slow climb to the blue and white trimmed house on Cherry street. Halfway up the step climb Ryan stumbled and fell so Brian and Robert picked him up and they carried him the rest of the way. Robert kept looking down at the boy wondering if he should know him for some reason he should.

    They stopped a block North of the courthouse and Brian opened the gate and they carried Ryan through it and through a short shady lawn full of spring flowers and shrubs to the porch of a two story blue and white clapboard house and sat the boy in the porch swing until Brian got the latch open. Then up the flight of stairs to Brian's room and they lay Ryan down on his bed before Brian escorted Robert back outside and he thanked him. "Thank you again so much sir for your help I never would been able to get him this far on my own."

    "You're most welcome, and thank you for telling me of a decent place to eat for a change." Robert waved and headed South down Cherry street."

    Brian re entered the house and closed the screen door before walking into the hallway and sitting down in the ladder backed chair by the candle stick phone and picking up the receiver. "Hello Operator Doctor Martin's office please it is an emergency." Brian spoke into the base while he cupped the receiver to his ear listening for the operator to connect him on the scratchy connection all the time wondering how strange it was to meet two steamboat men with the same last name but most odd both with same New Orleans accent and facial features. He scratched his chin and stretched his long powerful legs out in front of him while he waited. He wasn't for sure if old doctor Brown was in or not but Doctor Martin was the only doctor in town with a telephone connection that he knew of.

     "Hello Doctor Martin's office, this is his son Chris, how can I help you to day?" The low quiet voice spoke through the receiver .

       "Hello this is Brian Peterson at 1315 Cherry street and I have a young friend who is very sick running what feels like a high temperature and is near exhaustion my father and myself found him near the levee street station not an hour ago.

     "Where is the young man now?"

    "He is resting in my room sir."

    "Make him comfortable and clean him up the best you can. My father is out near Bovina and won't be back in until late this afternoon, I will get his advice and bring some medicines for him to take and check up on him then we will make arrangements for my father to see him."

    "Thank you sir." Brian spoke.

    "Your welcome, give him a cool bath and put him to bed and if he desires it plenty of cool water to drink I will be around about five PM or so. oodbye."

    "Goodbye." Brian heard the click as the connection was broken and hung up the receiver before heading into the kitchen to fix two tall glasses of lemonade to drink and to wonder what next. His normal spring day had a new twist. To the North thunder rolled heralding another spring storm as the wind blew in from the open windows and doors.

    He was in the kitchen when he heard a loud knock on the front door and sat the pitcher of lemonade down on the table and closed the icebox door to go see who it was.

    "ICE DELIVERY" A loud voice called.

    "Coming," Brian answered as he walked down the cool hallway to the door and opened the screen door to let the big man in. "How are you today Mr. Mack?"

    "Fine Brian, your father told me you would be home when I stopped by the station to check and see if Ya'll needed some ice while I was making my early rounds. I' am trying to finish up early because those storm clouds don't look like they want to play around."

    "No sir they don't we need the rain tho for the garden everything is drying up including the river and the well."

    "How many blocks today all I have is the twenty pounders I ran out of the forty pound blocks early today supplying serval steamboats and Saint Mary's hospital."

    "Better make it two of the twenty pound blocks Mr. Mack so they will last longer in this heat, I hope the rain cools things down."

    "Two twenty pounders comin' up my boy if you like I can give you a pair tongs and you can bring the second one in for me."

    "Sure Mr. Mack be glad to help out. Brian replied following the big man out to the ice wagon some places had swapped over to motor trucks but the ICE plant still depended on trusty horses to haul their heavy four wheeled wagons through Vicksburg's brick  streets.  Mack pulled two pairs of long iron tongs from the storage hooks and opened the back doors and gripped a large clear block of ice with the tongs and eased it out of the wagon Brian had helped before and did the same as he used his shoulder to close the heavy iron doors to keep the rest of the cargo from melting as they carried the two blocks inside the house and to the kitchen. Brian opened the icebox door and lifted the heavy block up inside while Mack stood back until Brian had his in place then lifted his own and sat it in place before closing the door and propping the long tongs over his right shoulder.

    "Say Brian want a flavored ice? I got several left from a damaged box I will give you if you want to try them.

    "Sure Brian replied following the big man through the hallway toting the iron tongs by their rubber handles. They walked out to the big delivery truck and Mack replaced both sets of tongs back on their hooks and opened one of the doors up to remove a cardboard box marked Cherry flavored ice and handed it to Brian. "There's six left and they will stay good for a day or so keep them up with the ice blocks and they should be fine." Mack said as he walked around to the driver's seat and climbed up and took up the horses reins and waved as the wagon jerked into motion headed south back towards the main part of town.

    Brian stood in the brick street for a moment before turning and walking slowly back inside the house he looked North at the black storm clouds before climbing the steps to the front porch he wished his mom was home she would know what to do she always did, but for the rest of the week it was just him and da and now Ryan a stranger sleeping in his narrow bed with a New Orleans accent, sick with a fever and no where to turn to. He took the cardboard box to the kitchen and placed it up top next to the ice blocks and chipped off several big pieces for the almost forgotten lemonade glasses sitting on the small round table. He then walked over to the small window over the kitchen sink and closed it because if it rained the wind would blow everything off the small neat shelf in what was his momma's domain the kitchen. He picked up the two glasses and and walked into the living room and climbed the wide stairs to the second floor and his bedroom and walked inside.

    Ryan was still in a fevered sleep his brow soaked in sweat like his dirty linen shirt and holed trousers then he looked down at Ryan's feet and almost wanted to cry. The soles of the leather shoes were paper thin and the heels long gone. How far had he walked before collapsing sick on the Vicksburg levee Brian asked himself as he sat the two glasses down on his small desk he used for drawing quickly moving two sketches of steamboats he had been drawing so the glasses would not drip on the white paper. He then sat down heavily into the chair and let out a heavy sigh. "Time to get him undressed and made comfortable." Brian said to himself only to be answered by rolling thunder and a cool gust of wind through the open windows. He eased himself up and out of the chair and slowly walked towards his bed and bent down to look over the golden haired boy and softly wiped his brow with the back of his hand. Brian then walked to the foot of the bed and slowly untied Ryan's shoes and gently pulled each one off followed by the dirty white socks with the blood stains on the soles. He winced when he saw the busted blisters on top of blisters and wondered how big of a set balls did this boy have in those dirty pants. He would just have to throw the socks away no way they would come clean without falling to pieces. He then slowly began to unbutton Ryan's tattered shirt, some of the buttons where barely hanging on by one or two threads, he didn't think the shirt could be saved either. He slowly lifted Ryan's limp body and removed the shirt to reveal a bronze skin tanned by the Southern sun and hairless except for one or two blonde strands encircling two dime sized nipples. He saw a few old healed scars and wondered in his mind what happened to such a beautiful boy in his past Ryan shivered in his sleep so Brian went and closed both windows leaving only a small gap at the bottom to let some of the cool air enter the mildly warm room and walked slowly back to the bedside. He bent over and slowly pulled off his own shoes to let his tired feet breathe and then slowly timidly reached for the button on Ryan's trousers, was he even wearing any underwear Brian's mind asked as the button let go of its hold and his long fingers reached for the zipper and slowly pulled it down to reveal pale skin and a nest of blonde hairs, no underwear it seemed and he wondered if he should stop there or continue. Brian felt a warm throb in his own blue pants and his mind said continue after all you must get him cleaned up or you will be sleeping in a dirty bed tonight. He gripped the trousers and slowly pulled them down and smiled at the beautiful boy now laying naked in his bed. Brian's eyes rested on Ryan's soft uncut penis and he wanted to reach out and stroke it to its full glory, but at the same time felt ashamed of himself for even thinking it, of taking advantage of a sick boy in need of a friend. Brian picked up the shirt and trousers and took them downstairs to the wash room on the back porch and looked down the bluff towards the river and at the steamboats in port and let out another sigh before heading once again up the stairs.

    Robert Parsons sat at the corner table his empty plate before him with only a few crusts of bread upon it thinking as he rolled a half full glass of whiskey in his palms. "Where have I seen that boy before? He asked himself over and over again, New Orleans on the lake front? Or in the Quarter? I know I have laid eyes on him before and he looks so much like a older Ryan, Damn it why did I ever let the whore talk me into selling my second  oldest son! His mind screamed as his fists tightened around the glass tumbler until his knuckles turned white and where was Jamie? My angel in the rough working in some hell hole or in some whore's dirty grip? I know where my oldest boy is..." He reached into his vest pocket and pulled out the now tear stained creased letter; dated May 12th 1928  written almost two years ago, he opened it once again and took a long swallow of whiskey and began to read it again as tears flowed down his cheeks as if he had just received it yesterday.

    Dear Mr. Parsons,

                I write today to inform you of your son's tragic death on the 13th of April of this year. He was a bright and cheerful lad despite his blindness you know he was born with and was working hard to enter the outside world from inside these cold brick walls of the blind school. He had even found himself a new set of eyes in the form of a wonderful German Shepard named Bismarck after reading about the German Iron chancellor of Germany. Bismarck was the only dog he wanted out of the kennels. Wayne even gave Dixie to a younger boy because she was so much gentler. He was very smart and did well with his writing and numbers and loved helping the younger boys. He would sit for  hours facing the river  telling the younger students about his proud father the steamboat pilot and would describe in detail the wonderful river craft as if he was Mark Twain himself. Wayne would always say Mark twain might of been famous and good but my father is the best on old man river.

    We tried to contact you as soon as possible but your wife said you was out of town and could not be reached and she did care to be bothered by such news as she was busy, in her telegram back to my assistant. Most of the time we would have ended it there but I decided to press on and try once more by sending this letter directly to you. We have saved his personal  letters including all the ones he had written to you and received back unopened unread with returned written in red ink in a woman's hand. We buried him in the school's cemetery as he deserved better than a unmarked grave and some of the younger students carved him a proper marker and we placed him on the hill facing the river so he can forever watch for his father's return. We also boxed up he few most prized personal items and will hold them for you to collect if you wish to have them after receiving this communication.

    Sincerely yours,

    David Warrington

    President of the Baton Rouge School for the blind

    Robert carefully folded the letter and tucked it back into his vest pocket and then reached for his wallet and removed a two dollar bill and laid it on the table by his empty plate, before standing and slowly walking out the door wiping tears from his eyes. He headed down the street and walked towards the blue clapboard house and stood on the corner of the street and looked up at the open windows. He wanted to walk up to the door and ask the young man if he could look upon his friend one more time. His brain wanted him to but his body refused to move from the shady corner. "Is that my boy laying up there in a stranger's bed?" He turned and headed towards the wharf instead. He had work to do.


3:35 AM, This chapter is dedicated to all who dare to dream, dedicated to all the ones who refuses to surrender when their is a spark of life left in them. As I was writing this chapter I was thinking back to a few years ago when it was common for me to climb up the steps on to the back of a caboose and to shout that all to common "HIGH BALL" from the back of a working caboose and then climb those rungs to the angel's seat for a four hour ride to the junction. Many times I have wanted to just surrender and die many nights I have laid in bed hurting so bad that morphine couldn't kill the pain wondering where the next dollar would come from to buy my meds to keep living when my puny SSI check plays out each month Life IS a bitch at times a dirty bitch for sure, but I be damned if I am going to surrender to anyone soon.

A few weeks ago back in February of this year I went in for laser surgery on my left (good eye) because everyone kept preaching to me about getting it done well I went in and my blood Pressure dropped to nothing over nothing so I actually died for 3 minutes until they brought me back around and in those 3 minutes dear Reader I saw no light at end of tunnel and a good friend of mine said of course not that light is life and it was still burning inside your soul because it wasn't your time to leave your family or friends. I guess he is right after all I do have several stories to finish and I hope several more to begin. I have been asked Steve how many people read your stories and my reply I have no clue. I get one or two e mails on this one its been awhile since I got one on MY LITTLE STOWAWAY AND NO GREATER LOVE  of course the second one is far from finished  but I am afraid it is still dead in my creative soul at the moment. But not dead forever I haven't forgotten Johnny and Adam and the rest of my boys and I have one or two others not yet posted anywhere in the back of this morphine induced mind of mine. I spent three days or so in the hospital mom never left my side like she has done many times giving up things for me alot of times when the doctors tell me no food or drinks then she won't eat or drink at all either. I don't know how I will ever repay her and my dad for their love and wish everyone young boy and girl had such a fine set of parents we are far from rich when it comes to money but has to be one of the richest in love from my parents and little sister.

This chapter is for my friends the ones I know in person the many I only know as a Screen name and a picture, I must thank Uncle Mike for the greatest Christmas Present in a very long time this Gateway Laptop that I am now laying in bed typing, no more aching back from sitting up all night writing in a chair, to my friend Christian in Montreal Canada for the many nights of love and suport and the many laughs and encouragements, for my Sunshine out in California who someday I want to meet so I can give him all those cyber hugs and kisses in person that have been passed back and forth for so many years, to my friend Willy B in Texas thanks for the dearest friendship my friend and to my Lil Bro Drew on the gulf coast thanks for being there dearest friend and to Ed also on the Gulf coast one day if the Lord wills it I shall return to my second home. To Trent Lewis my straight train chasing buddy and dear friend that I haven't told yet one day I will and if you find this story and read it I hope you understand your friendship is to important for me to loose even if I have to keep some things locked inside a fort of cold gray stone. To a new friend Jeff I met on Comicality thanks for the laughs and the joy and concerns when I don't feel on top of the world and to one final dear and close friend who is very special that came into my life two years ago as a stray puppy that no one wanted and was about to be killed by his owner to Bismarck I love you my lil doggy boy. He knows when I am sick and he cares. Dad has told me several times when he would come home from the hospital and he would be on the front porch waiting with tears in his eyes when I didn't get out of the truck, the first two weeks we had him he slept in bed with me and I would wake up many a morning with his head on my chest close to my heart and that long tongue would reach out to lick me on the cheek to say good morning. He is now to big to sleep with me but mom no longer complains when I open the front door and he comes in on my heels or the days when I am sick and he follows me to my room to climb in bed with me to just lay beside me with his head on my chest. He is one of my greatest joys in my life loyal and trusting and fateful since it seems most boys in this world cant see beyond this wrecked body of mine to fall in love with me as a person. It is now 4:45 am and time for sleep, Thanks Dear Readers for letting me open my soul a little on this cold spring morning peace and happiness to you all.

Last Tuesday I had laser surgery on my good eye the left one and I write this short note blind with tears in my eyes barely able to see the screen. So this chapter may be the last for a long time maybe forever if I can't regain my sight. Tonight I even thought of boxing up all my model trains and selling them to Trent or just putting them on e bay and saying fuck life I surrender. So right now the flag is flying low over this crumbled ruins of a fort I call life. One final note I can see again thanks to some high powered glasses for now so our boys will continue to have their adventures upon the High Iron and Ole Man River.


Stephen W. Warrington

E mail me anytime at Swarri1349@AOL.com I love to hear from my readers it helps to keep the flames hot and  it lets me know someone out there cares enough to let me know how I am doing these days.