Read The Guns of Tortuga Online

Authors: Brad Strickland,Thomas E. Fuller

The Guns of Tortuga (10 page)

Hunter sank easily back into his chair and tossed back half his wine. “There's my offer. Sell him to me, and I'll take him off your hands.”

“You wish revengement,” Gille said. “I think I see. But the good Doctor Shea says his patient might not survive, even with his ministrations.”

With as ghastly a leer as I ever hope to see, Hunter leaned forward. “That devil Brixton ruined Dr. Shea along with the rest of us. Patch is an excellent surgeon. He can keep a man alive for days. Even when he doesn't want to be!” Hunter leaned further into the candlelight. “Is it a bargain?”

M. Gille stared at him coldly. Then his eyes took the slightest twitch to the right, where Mr. Meade sat in his shadows. Did I imagine it or did that white wig nod slightly in return? No matter, M. Gille smiled. “I believe we can do business, Captain Hunter. Would you prefer to discuss terms now?”

“Aye, but first things first. Davy!” Captain Hunter turned to me. The wolfish smile was still on his face, and his eyes were wild. “Run you to the ship and tell Mr. Adams to attend me here. Have
him bring some men. Tell him we'll be taking away some merchandise!”

“Aye, aye, sir!” I squeaked and took to my heels. The house seemed much larger going out than coming in as I pelted for the door. I was through it in a flash and running down the drive and through the gates. It was only when they were safely out of sight behind me that I paused to get my breath. Uncle Patch's mad plan had actually worked! I could hear his conspiratorial whisper in my mind: “Give 'em a kernel of truth wrapped in a parcel of lies, and buy the old man!”

But then I heard something that had been no part of my uncle's plan: the tramp of many feet coming up the road. I hid myself in the woods just in time to avoid a patrol of sailors coming up from town. They were rough-looking men with drawn cutlasses, marching along behind a bulky bald man whose head seemed to be covered in tattoos. As soon as they were past, I took to the road and raced toward the Commodore's, where the rescue of Jessie and Lieutenant Fairfax should have been well underway.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived at the
Commodore's and saw that the guards at the gate were two sailors from the
Aurora.
One of them leveled his musket as I came running up.

“Put that down! 'Tis I, Davy Shea! I've got to see my uncle Patch!”

“'Tain't loaded,” muttered Abel Tate. “The doctor is—”

“Right behind you,” Uncle Patch snarled as he stood framed in the archway. Quickly, I informed him of all that had happened. He didn't seem pleased. “What's Hunter playing at? I warned him to string it out, to keep them debating until midnight or later.”

“But we didn't expect Monsieur Gille to doubt us!” I said, trying to defend the captain.

“And us with such honest faces and all. I'll see to the men he needs. You go upstairs and see if the lieutenant and his ragged servant are ready. The guards are asleep in the yard, and we caught them as they came on duty, so we've nearly four hours to spare.”

The two guards lay just inside the gate, breathing heavily. I rushed past them and up the stair. Lieutenant Fairfax had changed into clothes that
Uncle Patch must have brought with him: canvas trousers, linen shirt, a vest, and a scarf tied around his head. The disguise was topped off with a black eye patch that he was shifting from eye to eye as if looking for the best effect. It all made him look very young, like a child playing at dress-up.

I was still staring at him when Jessie Cochran came up and hit me hard on the arm. “What are you doing here?” she demanded.

“Faith, that hurts, Jessie!” I complained, rubbing my arm. “Listen, now. I've come fresh from Gille's plantation, and my uncle says to—”

That was as far as I got before the lieutenant was next to me, demanding to know every detail of what had happened. So I was forced to go through the whole thing, to Jessie's openmouthed amazement and the lieutenant's thoughtful nods. Then I mentioned the sailors I had passed, and the man with the tattooed head. Both grew pale at that.

“A stout man with a great barrel chest?” Fairfax asked urgently. “And the tattoos, were they all kinds of blue swirls over the top of his head?”

“I can't answer to the color, for I only saw by moonlight, but as to the swirls, aye, just as you said.”

“Then we'd best hurry. That man is the captain of the
Sultana,
the pirate ship that took the
Venture
and landed Jessie and me in this mess.”

“We don't know his true name,” Jessie said breathlessly. “His crew just called him Shark. I watched him pick up one of his own wounded men and throw him over the side!”

“Come, there is not a moment to lose,” Fairfax said as he buckled a borrowed sword around his waist. He no longer looked like a young boy. Now he looked like a dangerous one. “We had best make our escape so that this Captain Hunter can make his. Davy, my compliments to your terribly effective uncle Patch, and tell him we shall be right behind you. And tell him what we said about this pirate Shark.”

So down the stairs I pounded, thinking that running was all I was about this day. Uncle Patch was pacing back and forth like an Irish bear, muttering curses under his breath as fast as he could draw it. I gasped out the lieutenant's compliments and the information that Captain Shark had entered the plan.

“Brimstone and blazes!” he snarled. “Sure, and
this gets better by the minute, it does! The plan sprung too soon, and now real pirates meddling into it as well!”

“Is the captain in danger?” I asked.

My uncle flapped his arms. “When have you known him not to be? I'm lumbered with that young popinjay upstairs, and until he's safely stowed, our hands are tied! I've sent Abel Tate back to fetch Mr. Adams and some of the others. Perhaps they can bluff their way in and bear Brixton back. Fly back to Gille's and let William know what's afoot. Here, you shall take my horse, the roan tied in front of the tavern yonder.”

We walked to the very end of the next street, and for some minutes I stood wondering whether I dared get in the saddle at all. The beast was a snappish thick-headed brute of a hired horse, but grateful I was not to have to run the five miles back to the Gille plantation. Once I had made the climb, the fool of a horse wanted to dance about the street with me for more minutes, until I began to think it would have been faster to walk.

Finally, though, I persuaded the animal to start forward. It seemed to know the road, for it did not
stumble, though several times the devil tried to throw me off. Nothing I could do would persuade it to go faster than an amble, and all in all the horse was only a trouble to me. At last I swung off the creature while still three hundred yards away from Gille's, for I had not left riding a mount, and thus wanted no questions about how I had come by one.

I meant to tie him to a tree beside the road, only the ill-natured brute yanked the reins from my hands and took off back toward the town. I stared after the beast for a moment, then turned my eyes to the sky. A few stars twinkled there, and the moon, now past full, seemed to be staring down at me. Maybe it was wondering what Davy Shea was doing, tearing about on a night full of doubt and danger such as this.

For I was myself wondering just that.

Bloodshed!

I had NOT REACHED
the gate when I heard hoofbeats approaching. Quick as thought, I darted off the road and behind one of the trees whose gnarled roots crept in a web over the stones. I tried to melt against the trunk. The horse and rider came into view, just a dark silhouette against the gray of the moonlit road. Whoever was in the saddle was not a tall figure, and I crouched to pick up a fist-size stone to defend myself with. I might have thrown it too, had the person following me not reined in the galloping horse and called sharply, “Come out! I know you're there!”

“Jessie!” I exclaimed, dropping the stone. I
stepped out into the moonlight. “What are you doing here? What's happened?”

“Nothing's happened,” she insisted, looking down at me from the back of the very horse that had run away from me minutes before. “Except that I'm coming with you.”

“No, that you are not!” I exclaimed hotly. “I'll not be responsible for you!”

“Fiddle-faddle!” she shot back. “You're a fine one to talk. You're likely to get yourself killed without some help. You can't even hold on to a horse.”

I felt my cheeks burning in the darkness. “I let him go,” I said.

She leaped from the saddle. “Then so will I.” She gave the horse a smart slap on his rump, and the beast ran away, back toward town. “Come on! We're wasting time.”

“But you were supposed to go back to the ship—”

“They don't need me. Fairfax, and your uncle, and two sailors are already on their way back to the
Aurora.
You're the one I'm worried about. Can't you hurry?”

“Not without falling and breaking my head,” I muttered, but we were already within sight of the
tall stone wall about the house. I had been worrying about talking our way past the guard, but there was no need at all, for the gate was open and unlocked, and never a guard did we see.

We stepped into the yard. Down the tree-lined lane, the white house gleamed with light. Every room seemed to have a hundred candles in it, with the yellow glare spilling out into the hot tropical night. “Something's wrong,” I said. “'Tis strange that the house is all lit up like that, and nothing afoot but supper. How did you get past my uncle?”

“I crept down and was listening in the shadows when you talked to him,” she said. “While you were fooling with the horse, I got a head start on you, and you didn't even notice me half a mile back when you went riding him past. If you can call it riding! Anyway, where are the pirates?”

There she had me. Captain Shark and his men were nowhere in evidence, not that I could see. Perhaps they were in the house, or perhaps they lurked on the grounds. There was no telling, but the best path seemed to be to take our courage in our hands and boldly stroll up to the door, for I had learned that if you look as though you have
some urgent business, people tend to let you be. “Come on,” I said, leading the way.

We stepped onto the deserted veranda, and then I noticed that the front door stood ajar. Without knocking, I pushed it open and we stepped down the hall and into the dark entrance room. No one was there, not a soul, not a servant, not a mouse. I nodded toward the panel that concealed the sickroom and whispered, “Brixton's in there, but I don't know how to work the door at all.”

“Worry about him later,” returned Jessie.

We were halfway down the hall to the dining room when we heard someone swearing in French—and coming our way. “In here,” Jessie whispered, grabbing me by the arm and dragging me through a doorway.

We stepped into a sort of study, with an enormous, elaborate desk and two walls that were nothing but bookshelves, floor to ceiling. French doors, closed against the night, were opposite the hall door. Beside them on either side were open windows, with filmy curtains drifting on the sultry night breeze. The whole wall behind the desk was covered by a hanging tapestry showing hunters
with lances pursuing a leopard. Overhead, a chandelier blazed with candles. Jessie closed the door, and we flattened ourselves against the wall.

But then the voice stopped right outside the room, angry and loud, and I heard a rattle at the door handle. Jessie again dashed past me, tugging me along, and we dived behind the tapestry. There was barely room for us, but she lay on her stomach, and I did the same, with my head at her feet. Even so, the bottom of the tapestry pushed out from the wall, but we had at least a chance of escaping attention.

I could see only through the crack between the bottom of the tapestry and the floor, so when the door opened and three men came in, all I could glimpse were feet. The door slammed, and the French rose in pitch and in anger. It was the voice of M. Gille, and he seemed far from pleased.

A rough English voice cut him off: “Belay! I don't understand your French jabber. Talk English!”

There came a pause, and I heard Gille take three or four deep, rasping breaths. Then he spoke in English, but his tone was no less furious: “How dare you! How dare you come to this house? You
know our arrangement. I cannot afford to have your ruffians visit this place so openly!”

“Business,” said the rough voice shortly. “Monkey business, if ye asks me. I don't like to be cheated, not me. I don't take kindly to them what cheats me either.”

“Mr. Meade,” Gille said coldly, “call the servants and throw this dog out!”

“I'm afraid it's too late for that,” replied Meade's soft, honeyed voice. “And Captain Shark does have a point, Monsieur.”

I sensed Jessie ahead of me going stiff with surprise. Meade did not seem the type to defend a roughneck like Shark.

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