I sat down cross legged on the bare floor as Zvonko lit a candle on the nightstand. Wearing only his trousers, he was perched on the edge of a bed that looked as comfortable as rocks. His entire torso was bound in bandages. Irregular blotches of blood had seeped through in several places, dried black, though were insignificant enough to suggest that a good doctor that worked on him and had likely been the person who applied the bandages.
Those bandages will need to be changed soon.
“Lally hasn’t spoken a word to me since I opposed him,” admitted Zvonko dolefully. “I’d appreciate it if you caught me up.”
I nodded. “I’ll begin with what I managed to learn about the enemy. Their leader is a man named Captain James Green and his first mate’s name is Bryant West. Their lawless crew is made up of thirty able bodied sailors. At least two of them have Hallerian lineage, giving them abnormal height and strength.”
Zvonko’s bruised jaw tightened.
I continued, “One man can breathe underwater. At least five are decent marksmen with a single shot rifle or pistol and know how to reload. They have an apt surgeon who they kidnapped from a port about a year ago.
“All crewmen are excellent brawlers, liars, swimmers, seamen, and murderers. Their ship, The Bandit, flies a jolly roger that looks like a hunting blade forming an ‘X’ with a dagger under a cracked skull with no mandible on a field of dark blue. Ship has twenty guns. Can cruise between 10 and 15 knots. ”
Sitting with elbows resting on his thighs, Zvonko said nothing for a moment. “Their minstrel is a shark charmer.”
My skin crawled.
Zvonko’s narrowed eyes studied the floor between us. “During our challenges against Green’s crew, there was a moment when half our people had plunged into the bay and the minstrel, who had been performing a plucky adventurous tune, changed his song and summoned a shiver of sharks that attacked even before some of us had surfaced.”
A shark charmer changes things. I rubbed my chin. “Did you notice anyone else with talents like that?”
“Like that, no. There is a crewman who’s proficient in explosives, however. We’d do well to be wary of her.”
He looked up. The bruising on his face appeared more grotesque in the candle’s weak glow.
I leaned forward, elbows on my knees. “As your captain, Lally will expect you to obey him no matter what,” I said. “He also has the disgusting habit of dishing out mercy and compassion for all living things–.”
Zvonko held up a hand to stop me. “Lally’s naval hero worship has made his naval tactics too cliched for him to lead this rescue. A direct approach will mean death. If we’re to stand a chance at all, we will need to conduct ourselves in as unpredictable and disconcerting a manner as possible to keep Captain Green off balance and to prevent our actions from being swiftly or effectively countered. We need to embody shock and surprise. Hence…” He gestured to me.
“But you hate my spontaneous whimsy.”
“Hate is too gracious of a word.”
“You called me and my ideas ‘unhinged’.”
“You and they are but that’s what Lally needs right now, and I’ll do everything in my power to make your deranged vision for his success come to fruition.”
That’s all I needed to hear. “We sail in the morning,” I said, pushing to my feet, “but I have one more errand to run tonight.”
Zvonko reached for his boots under the bed. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Sure.” I grabbed his green coat from where it was draped over a rickety chair and tossed it at his face. “You can buy the drinks.”
The Maisey Bar was in full swing that night due to the five ships that came into port that evening. Between the live music and the mass of patrons, the noise was deafening. I sneaked through the crowd past the first bartender, who had worked there since time began, and threaded my way to the second bartender, who I had never seen before.
The second bartender nodded to me. Due to the din, she mouthed more than said, “What can I get for you, sir?”
I leaned an elbow on the counter and shouted, “Is Miss Hunt in?”
A female voice boomed to my right. “MESA, YOU HAVE A DEATH WISH WALKING THROUGH MY DOORS!!!!”
Lenora Hunt owned four bars and the best restaurant in town. I had crossed paths with her many times over the years which was why she repeatedly tried to gut me whenever she had the chance. She had wavy black hair, wound in a braid down to her waist, and eyes like the sunset I’ll probably see before I die. Custom trousers and fitted blouses had replaced her dresses since she was a teen, and brown boots laced up to her knees. A coral blue sash encircled her waist which was how I spotted her from afar in order to evade her.
One of Miss Hunt’s two curved blades had already appeared in her fist as Zvonko, oblivious to how close I was to death, stepped up to the counter on the other side of me to put a gloved hand on the counter. He offered a polite smile to the lady bartender, who blushed.
To me he said, “Have you spoken with her yet?”
Miss Hunt lowered her blades. Her cheeks turned pink as Zvonko followed my pointed gaze to where she stood.
[to be continued…]