ALL I’VE BEEN trying to do is make a living.
Perhaps not the most honest one, I’ll give the lad that. But what options do I have left to me, I ask you? You try making ends meet when you can’t even use a blasted knife and fork.
I blame my parents. Or their parents, or their parents’ parents. Whoever first had the astoundingly good idea to use that as a surname. It was like some cursed legacy, passed down through generations, waiting for some poor unfortunate soul to take it literally.
Well, great-great-great-ancestors, here I am. Excuse me if I don’t salute you, in case I poke my damned eyes out.
A knock at my door hauls me from my self-pity.
It’s Jukes. Barges in like he owns the place. Never trusted him, I have to admit. Always seems to have his sights set on things above his station. Like my job.
‘Cap’n.’ It’s hard to make out his expression beneath all the tattoos. His face is inscribed like a map. To a place you wouldn’t really want to sail.
‘What is it?’ I close the book carefully, turning it away from him so he doesn’t see what I’ve been writing.
‘Something you should see, cap’n. Above decks.’ He clicks his tongue like a ticking clock. Swine.
‘What is it? We’re not due to see land for another day at least.’
‘Another ship, cap’n. Approaching fast.’
‘What colours are they flying?’ We’re deep in neutral territory, but it could be anyone. The English, the Spanish, another privateer. Even the Lost Boys on their luxury yacht.
‘You won’t believe it, cap’n.’ The tattoos round Jukes’ mouth do a smug dance of glee. ‘Never thought we’d see the like, not this far out.’
‘Who is it!’ I slam my fist on the table. The book nearly falls off. I twirl my moustache in a dastardly fashion in an attempt to make Jukes think I’ve not lost my composure.
‘She’s showing the flag of the Kingdom, cap’n. SB’s insignia.’
‘SB?’ My blood runs cold as one of Tinkerbell’s special rum daiquiris. ‘What in blazes could she want with us?’
A non-committal shrug. ‘No idea, cap’n.’ His inked body fills the doorway like a muscled collection of scribbles. ‘Better come see for yourself.’
I curse under my breath, taking the quill out the ink pot and laying it down gently. I was in full flow – the muse had most certainly blessed me with her presence: my sonnet to Tiger Lily was shaping up nicely. Once I’d found a decent enough rhyme for ‘little perky feather’, it would have been as good as done.
I gesture for Jukes to lead the way, knowing better than to have him behind me. I find myself wishing the blasted boy had finished the job, rather than just carving his initials on Jukes’ back with his rapier and flying off with a laugh. The scars slice through one of his larger tattoos, depicting a mermaid doing something I would wager a fistful of doubloons against being anatomically possible. The second letter P all but obscures her gills, which is probably just as well.
Everyone’s up on deck. Noodler, Starkey, Cookson, Smee and a dastardly crew of other pirates whose names I’ve never taken the time to remember. They’re all peering out to starboard, towards the three-master speeding in our direction. I can see the flag. Jukes was telling the truth.
‘Man the cannon!’ I shout. ‘Brace for impact!’
The crew scatter at my command, taking up positions above and below decks. Noodler swings the harpoon, aiming it directly at the oncoming galleon. An impressive feat, given the state of his fingers. I look down at where my own right hand used to be and curse that blasted crocodile to kingdom come.
‘Beggin’ yer pardon, cap’n.’ Smee toadies up to me, offering me the telescope. ‘Best ‘ave a look up at the crow’s nest there.’
I grab the spyglass and fix it to my good eye. The image is blurred, so I twist the eyepiece, bringing everything into focus.
Sharp, blood-curdling focus.
There, above the ship. Tumbling in the air like a balletic green bird. Laughing. Swishing his sword effortlessly to and fro, jabbing and feinting, ducking and weaving. The movements are unmistakable.