"Look, this is very straightforward. Bounties on pirates delivered alive are full price, bounties on dead pirates take a reduction. Extra is taken off if the body is difficult to identify, as in this case."
"But we took him alive! A-L-I-V-E!"
"And it's not our fault that he's difficult to identify. He was like that when we ran across him."
"You tell him, boss!"
"He's damn lively, and three-quarters of our boys are in the hospital to prove it!"
The marine lieutenant rubbed a hand against his forehead. "Even if you say that…the skeleton is just lying there."
Twenty or so odd bounty hunters turned their heads to look at the seastone cage on the floor, containing one skeleton dressed in a black suit with a top hat on his afro-covered head and a violin under his arm, lying prostrate and motionless.
The bounty hunter boss was quick to protest, "He was dancing around like crazy earlier, hopping around and walking on water and slicing with that crazy cane sword of his!" He waved the cane as if it should serve as evidence.
The marine merely tapped his pen skeptically, pointing at the skeleton. "Well, why isn't he moving right now?"
The boss said, "Clearly we knocked him unconscious."
"Knocked what unconscious? I can see clear through the crack in his skull! He doesn't have a brain!"
One of the bounty hunters said uneasily, "He hasn't moved at all for some time now. Do you think maybe we accidentally killed him?"
"How does someone kill a skeleton?"
"Maybe if you hit him too hard…"
"Hit him? He's already bones!"
One of the nerdier bounty hunters standing at the back commented, "It occurs to me that since he was a skeleton from the beginning, he was dead all along. Some kind of revenant or zombie, perhaps."
The meatier bounty hunter next to him gave him an elbow to the side. "Shut up, idiot!"
"Yeah, are you trying to get them to lower our bounty?"
But his friends had spoken to late. The marine lieutenant seized on this excuse. "Yes, no matter if he was moving or not, I don't see how you could expect us to pay a 'live' bounty for a skeleton. He's clearly dead."
"Come on, give a working man a break!"
"If he's still swinging a sword and dancing around then he's just as hard to capture as if he was alive, isn't he?"
"Yeah, it's not like we just found his bones lying there and brought them back." Receiving a raised eyebrow, the bounty hunter insisted, "We really didn't!"
"You say that he's dead, but you weren't the one who had to dodge a million different humming-something strikes."
"He was completely creaming us until he tried to do some forty degree thing over our unconscious bodies, slipped, and fell into the cage…but that doesn't mean we don't deserve a full bounty! We need it to pay our hospital bills."
The marine lieutenant listened with increasing skepticism. "Now that I'm thinking about it, I don't even know that you've proven to my satisfaction that this is the pirate in question. You could have gotten any skeleton and dressed him in a suit. And stuck an afro on his head. Why would a skeleton still have an afro anyway?"
"We don't know."
"Yeah, don't look at us."
The marine tugged the bounty collecting paperwork back on his desk. "I think perhaps you should leave now. And return that skeleton back to the museum you found it in."
"Wait! He's really a pirate, one of Straw Hat Luffy's crew! A walking skeleton! Didn't you hear about the scandal, how Soul King Brook, the Grand Line's greatest rock star, turned out to be a pirate and a member of the Straw Hats?"
The lieutenant crossed his arms across his chest. "I don't really listen to music."
The smallest bounty hunter, eager to redeem his past mistake, produced a newspaper clipping.
After surveying the clipping, the marine lieutenant pronounced that there did seem to be a Dead Bones Brook, formerly Humming Brook, in existence as a talking skeleton, but that an afro alone did not a positive identification make.
Another bounty hunter reached into his shirt and pulled out a picture. "There, see, that's him. And be careful about that, it's autographed." As his friends treated him to odd looks, he insisted, "It's not mine, it belongs to my girlfriend. And please, no one tell her that I bounty hunted her favorite musician."
The others crowded around the picture. "Look, see, he's got the same crack on his skull! That's gotta be him!"
The marine said, "You could have added that crack yourself. I'm sorry, gentlemen, but I can't see my way to giving you more than half bounty on this one. And you should count yourself lucky to get even that."
The bounty hunter leader exploded, "Half bounty? You must be kidding! I have about sixty people with hospital bills to pay!"
"Then maybe you should sell that thing to a freak show! Look, have you stopped to consider this from the marines' point of view? We want pirates alive so we can turn them into examples. But even if he turns out to be still alive, or should I say animated…what's the point in beheading a skeleton? What if we bring him up to the execution stand, lop off his head, and he just keeps moving? It would be an embarrassment to the entire world government!"
"Maybe you could set him on fire," a bounty hunter suggested.
"Starve him to death."
"Idiot, he's got no stomach."
"If he's a devil fruit user he might drown."
"Wasn't he walking on water earlier?"
"If you bury him alive then no one will know if it doesn't work."
"I thought they hung pirates."
"WHAT POSSIBLE GOOD WOULD THAT DO?"
"Nothing, I was just saying…"
"Oh, sure, let's drop a noose over his head and watch it get stuck on his vertebrae. Maybe if we draw the rope tight enough around his spine it will cut off the circulation to his imaginary lungs!"
"There's no need to get worked up about it. We should try everything. Look, I got this dog, he likes to chew on bones, right? We could give Poochie a bone."
The marine lieutenant slammed his hands down on his desk. "Enough! You still haven't proven to my satisfaction that this is the right skeleton anyway. I think I may need to talk to my superiors about this. You can fill out a waiting list form and we'll call you back when we're ready."
"Wait!" the bounty hunter boss said frantically, knowing how long it could take to wade through marine paperwork. "I can prove that it's him! Look, I have his sword cane! Wait. Where did that cane go? It was in my hands just a second ago!"
A dozen pairs of eyes turned to the cage on the floor, now empty with its door hanging wide open.
Brook made fast time away from the marine base, helped by the fact that the marine guards posted at the gate had kindly blubbered and fled in terror instead of trying to stop him. He was also grateful that the bounty hunters had been too scared of him to reach into his cage and grab his violin. Using a spare wire to pick the lock had been no trouble at all, since the lock itself had not been made of seastone.
He might have left sooner had he not been entertained by the fascinating conversation being carried out as if he wasn't there. It might continue to be an effective strategy to play dead in the future—except he was already dead of course.
It was fortunate that he didn't have to involve Luffy and the others in this, and hopefully they would never know. Still being the newest member of the crew, he had no desire to cause them trouble already.
There was the sound of a siren behind him, and Brook ran faster. "Yo-ho-ho!"