Testing the Wall
Governor Claiborne lent me his house for my meeting with the pirate. I
re-filled the woodstove and sat down with a glass of whiskey before he
knocked on the door.
"Jean Lafitte," he said.
"General Andrew Jackson," I said.
He provided a damp handshake and poured himself some rum. I drank more
whiskey and braced myself for whatever might exit the pirate's mouth.
He had a childish, wide-eyed look. I had Old Hickory, a walking cane
that would double as a spear capable of killing Lafitte if it needed
"I don't want to join your army," he said.
"I don't want to deal with you."
"But you're going to win. The British don't know swamps, bayous,
Louisiana. The thousand men under my command do. I want to win with
you. Prove to these people that I'm as Louisianan as they are."
"You really have a thousand men?"
"I do. And five hundred muskets."
A thousand men plus five hundred muskets equaled mountains of dead
Brits near the river, lining the Quarter, bleeding into the decks of
their boats. I'd be sorry to leave New Orleans to Lafitte and his
pirate men; its drink and dance and carousel of women. But it would be
good to return to Rachel and Davidson County, a place where people
didn't consider surrendering their land for silly reasons like lack of
troops and fear of the British, figuring their party would continue no
matter who was in charge.
"Why are you offering me eight hundred men and five hundred muskets? I
don't believe it's to prove you live here."
"Because I want the charges against myself and my men dropped. The
piracy charges, the smuggling charges, everything."
"But aren't you a pirate and a smuggler? Why should we ignore
"To beat the British. Unless you've come up with enough sailors and
weapons to do it yourself during our talk."
His face shifted into a scowl, then something darker. It had shades of
all those animals you can't trust. Foxes, wolves, snakes. The fire
crackled, sparked. My left shoulder flared up with a pain just as loud.
I'd spend most of the next five years telling people about Lafitte's
courage, about his indefatigable men, sure-shots all. The way they'd
slink up and down the Mississippi and through the swamps, just as
liquid as the water they crossed. The thirteen alligators they caught
and fried up to mark the day we defeated the British.
But I couldn't see victory then. I could see combat. Cannons and
muskets slicing through the British. The sweat and blood and gunsmoke
of action. All of Lafitte's men standing with us.
"You'll need to shoot for it," I said.
I pinched warm ash between my thumb and forefinger, and smudged it on
the wall next to the woodstove.
"If you hit that mark, you can join me."
"But I didn't bring a musket or a pistol."
I untied the pistol attached to my leg and handed it to him. His face
traveled through fear and surprise on its journey to determination. He
squinted one eye and raised the gun.
He aimed, shot. The fire sparked in approval. I went over to inspect
the wall. Lafitte had blown a hole through the center of the ash mark.
"Claiborne won't be happy to find a hole in his wall," he said.
Kashana Cauley is a native Wisconsinite who lives in New York City. She is the
winner of the 2012 Esquire/Aspen Writers' Foundation Short Short
Fiction Contest, and she has work in Esquire, Tin House and others.
Detail of painting on main page: "General Andrew Jackson," by Samuel
Lovett Waldo (oil on canvas; 1819).
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