The maps were strewn around on top of the round, wooden table, their haphazard disarray an inclination that the captain was not pleased. In fact, the whole inside of the cabin was a mess. The few possessions the captain currently owned were either broken, or rolling around on the floor, back and forth with the sway of the stolen ship.
The vessel’s navigator stood just inside the main room of the cabin where the table and chairs took up half the space, even more so now that a few of the chairs were knocked over. He righted them as quietly as he could, apprehensive about interrupting his tetchy captain during such a private time. It was something that didn’t often bode well for the man relegated to the duty.
Inside the cabin, another smaller room provided privacy for the sleeping quarters. It contained only enough space for the bed and a narrow strip of foot room to maneuver around it. The wall separating the sleeping quarters was thin and did nothing to hide the activity going on behind it.
The navigator rubbed his hands together nervously as he listened to the hoarse cries and groans and the rhythmic thump of the bed against the wall. He was terrified of interrupting the mercurial captain while he was occupied with his catamite. Men who’d done so in the past were often met with a face full of lead. Unfortunately, it was a risk he would have to take since there were important developments regarding their unfortunate circumstances. He lifted a trembling hand and gently rapped on the door, breath stilling as the groans and thumps abruptly stopped. There was a pregnant pause, a colorful curse, and then the captain’s voice barked, “Oh, bugger me. What?”
The navigator cleared his throat and shifted from one foot to the other. “My apologies, Sir. The Catherine has lowered anchor. Captain Barton wishes to meet with you to discuss the terms of your agreement.”
He heard the captain's muffled voice grumble through the wall, followed by a shuffling sound and then the door swung open. The navigator quickly stepped back as the captain pushed through the threshold, clad only in a pair of brown trousers. His long hair, usually twisted into a rope, had unraveled and lay tangled over his shoulders. The navigator blushed profusely and tried his best not to stare at the angry red scratches marking up the sun-bronzed skin of man's chest and upper arms.
A quick glance behind him, he caught sight of the captain's young bedmate, naked as a jaybird and still sprawled across the bed with his slender legs drawn up, leaving nothing to the imagination. His dark hair was tousled, locks of chocolate brown hanging down over drowsy, half-lidded eyes. The navigator’s jaw dropped as the lad slid his hand down the length of his body and fondled his genitals and he had to force himself to look away from the lewd act taking place, seemingly for his benefit.
He jerked his attention back to his captain when he heard a soft growl and quickly stumbled out of his path as the man shouldered his way into the main room of the cabin. The captain’s face was sour as he slid on a linen shirt and irritably fumbled with the laces at his chest. “Damn that Barton. That scurvy son of a bitch best not have buggered up me ship.”
“He insists that the Shinigami is intact.”
The captain turned to him, nostrils flared and he clamped his lips shut in apology. “Intact doesn’t mean much, Hennesey.” He folded his arms across his chest and regarded his navigator with an arrogant tip of his chin. “How long have you been sailing with me?”
“Er...six months, Sir.”
“And you still have yet to learn the ways of a pirate.” The captain stepped closer and Hennesey’s heart thumped like a frightened jackrabbit. The man’s stunning face was still flushed a little, though whether in anger, or passion, he wasn’t certain.
He remained steadfast and looked his captain directly in the eyes despite his bladder threatening to empty itself and soak his trousers. “I - my apologies, Sir. I am trying to learn.”
“Then learn faster,” the captain snapped, scowling as he stepped around him. “A pirate’s word is as trustworthy as the Devil’s.” He stopped at the door and glanced over his shoulder. “Take heed, lad. Trust only your own eyes and ears.”
The captain observed him silently for several moments before his gaze darted into the room behind him. “Stay here, boy. I’ll not be in the mood to be looking for ye when I return. Defy me and you’ll be sleeping on yer belly tonight.”
There was no response other than the sound of a body shifting over bedding and Hennesey knew better than to turn and look. The captain glanced back him and raised a brow. “Are ye coming, or do you need to change yer trousers?”
When Captain Maxwell stepped into the pub, he was met with a room full of rowdy pirates partaking in steins of ale, legs of pheasant, and an abundance of whores, both male and female, in various states of undress. He glanced to his left as a scuffle broke out, in the midst of a dishonest game, and watched as revolvers were yanked from the holsters on their belts.
He rubbed his ear at the crack of gunfire and stepped further inside, his nose wrinkling from the pungent smell of sulfur. He propped his fists on his hips and glanced around for the distinctive form of the pirate who had taken possession of his beloved Shinigami.
Bloody hell, he loathed pirates. Smelly, flea-ridden, uncivilized barbarians, the whole lot of them.
The thieving bastard wasn’t hard to find. Maxwell’s status as a feared, bloodthirsty cutthroat himself was second only to one. The most feared man in the region was currently lounging in the far corner of the pub, still as a statue with his men armed to the teeth and flanking him on either side. The rest of the pub’s occupants kept a wide space between themselves and Barton, terrified of invoking his wrath.
Maxwell approached cautiously, his empty hands raised in front of him. He stood before Barton who sat with his typical infuriating calmness while his men patted him down. Barton’s first mate stood elegantly poised at his right shoulder, though he was nearly as deadly as Barton himself.
Maxwell’s gaze followed the length of Chang’s arm to where his hand rested gently on the hilt of his sword, slung from a sheath attached to his hip. He never moved, never blinked, but the inky blackness of his eyes glittered in the torchlight with a keenness as sharp as his blade. Maxwell knew, as a personal witness, that that weapon could be drawn and slicing through a man’s neck before the poor bastard even realized what was happening.
Chang’s hand was loosely curled around the intricately-carved hilt, though his other hand was bent behind his back, at ease, but prepared for anything. Any wrong move on Maxwell’s part would no doubt result in the lightning quick removal of his head. And he much preferred it attached to his body.
He diverted his attention back to the captain. He was here for Barton, and his ship. The tall pirate was reclined in his chair, one long leg demurely crossed over the other, and the jeweled fingers of his hand lightly traced the rim of his stein. His silence was unnerving and Maxwell fidgeted uncharacteristically before the placid gaze. “Where is she?”
A tapered brow arched over Barton’s tranquil green eye and then the captain shrugged a broad shoulder as he lifted his stein to his lips. “Drink?”
Before he could even decline, Barton was ticking a finger towards a passing wench. He clenched his fists and snarled, “Where is me ship?”
“Your ship is fine. Where is my boy?”
“He’s here. With me men.”
“You will not have your ship until I have my boy and know he is safe and unharmed.” Maxwell hesitated, heart freezing like ice when the green eyes darkened with deadly threat. “He is unharmed, is he not?”
“Erm…aye - yes. He is whole.”
Barton’s brows lowered dangerously and his body tensed as he smelled blood in the air. “What has become of him?”
He really didn’t want to delve into the details of informing Barton that his catamite had been used as sport for his men. He valued his life far too much. If the little blond whore decided to spill the beans later on, he would cross that bridge when he came to it.
He schooled his features in a show of neutrality, much the way he did when he was attempting pull one over on someone, praying Barton would buy the bluff. “Nothing. He is well. How is me ship?”
Barton’s deceitfully soft voice was calm and smooth, but laced with the promise of violence. “I am not in the habit of repeating myself. Consider yourself fortunate this time. Stealing your ship was a small price for stealing my boy. The next time you cross me, I will not be so inclined to generosity.”
Maxwell lifted his chin, defiant, but not too defiant. “As you wish. I will refrain from touching anything that belongs to you.”
Barton drained his stein and set it down onto the table with a gentleness that would easily fool those who were not privy to the captain’s true nature. Maxwell knew better. He’d seen those hands snap bones in a man’s neck as though they were nothing more than twigs. “See to it that your men do as well.”
“We will meet tonight at the docks. Sundown. Do not be late. I will return your ship provided my boy’s condition is to my satisfaction.”
“Right,” he spat and spun on his heel, his face flaming with humiliation and fury. He made it two steps from the table before -
He tried not to glare as he looked over his shoulder, though he failed miserably. There was an amused twinkle in Barton’s eyes which only served to fuel his rage. “I think you forgot something.”
He flushed harder, outrage simmering beneath his skin as one of Barton’s men stepped forward with Maxwell’s pearl-handled pistol in his palm. He swiped it with more force than was necessary and turned to leave.
He had to bite down on his tongue to keep the barrage of insults from escaping when the soft voice called to him again. He had no idea how Barton managed to sound so loud and authoritative over the din of a few dozen pirates who were three sheets to the wind. “What?”
This time, all traces of amusement were gone, replaced with icy promise in their wake. “The only reason you are not dead is because you’re a damned good pirate. You’ve always come through on our business deals before. Consider this your only warning. I’d hate to lose good competition, but I will not show mercy should you decide to cross me again.” Barton leaned forward and placed his palms on his knees, his eyes threatening slow and horrendously painful death. “If I see my boy is harmed, I will sink your ship right in front of you and then I will kill you.”
Maxwell swallowed his indignance and nodded. “As you wish.” He left then, shoving his way through the door and slamming it behind him. He sucked in deep lungfuls of cool and damp Irish air, trying to calm his nerves and his temper. His men who’d been anxiously waiting outside the pub, approached with caution.
“Captain. Are you -”
He waved off their concern with a flick of his hand and snapped, “I’m fine! For the love of Christ, do not fuss over me, or I’ll throw ye worthless arses overboard.”
There was an empty bottle a few feet away, no doubt discarded by a drunken patron. With a snarl of rage, he kicked it and a surge of vindictive pleasure rushed through his veins as it shattered on impact. “Damn that Barton. I hate pirates!”
No matter that he was one himself. He hated pirates. Loathed them. They were nothing but a bunch of no-good, thieving, murdering lowlives. Worse than a mangy, filthy cur. He grumbled as he stormed back towards the pier where the ship he’d stolen was anchored. He despised that shoddy excuse for a vessel even more than he did pirates. “Get the boy ready. We trade at dusk.”
He was just bloody relieved that he’d threatened his men with the plank if they so much as left a single scratch, or bruise on that little whore’s flesh. It could wind up being be the one thing that spared his sorry arse from untimely demise.
“I knew I should have gone to law school like me mum told me to.”