Read The Guns of Tortuga Online
Authors: Brad Strickland,Thomas E. Fuller
Gille's voice dripped with contempt: “So you are afraid of him, are you?”
“No,” Meade answered slowly. “In fact, sir, I agree with him.”
“He was the one who told us how much you was cheatin',” said Shark.
“And though I did not think this the best time for Captain Shark to press his arguments, I could not in all honesty tell him you would make things right,” added Meade.
After a baffled silence, Gille asked, “What do you wish of me? What is your complaint?”
“Nothin' much,” growled Shark. “Only that the money ye gave Meade to pay us is rather less than half o' what it should be. Blazes! If I was to take that an' call it square, why, my men would depose me in a minute, and I couldn't blame 'em if they did, not I.”
“Times are hard,” Gille told him. “With that devil Captain Steele threatening all trade, I'd be a fool to buy your goods at full price, not knowing whether I could ship them elsewhere for sale. But if they sell for what they should, I will add to your payment. Only when the sale is made, though!”
“Not good enough,” snarled Shark. “I say ye're a lying jackal.”
Gille swore in French, and I heard the hiss of a sword being drawn from its scabbard. There was a quick, sharp clash of steel on steel, a kind of gurgling gasp, and then the heavy thud of a body on the far side of the desk, where I could not see. I tried hard to press myself into the wall at my back, and to quiet the hammering of my heart.
“You've done 'im,” said the rough voice of
Captain Shark. A pause, and then, “Aye, 'e's dead, all right. What next, Cap'n Steele?”
At that, my thudding heart leaped right into my mouth. Captain Steele? Here? It was as if Satan himself were striding about the study on his cloven hooves!
A soft sigh, and then Meade said, “Well, the fool's time was coming to an end anyway. I had hoped to delay this, but since it has happened, we have to deal with the others. You get some men and secure the gate. I'll go back to the dining room and tell them Monsieur Gille is detained. When you've seen to the gate, bring half a dozen men and we'll take them prisoner and see if they're worth anything. Hurry now.”
Peering through the crack, I saw one man's feet move to the door. It opened, and the man was gone. It had to be Meade, from the elegant, silver-buckled shoesâor rather, it had to be Captain Steele!
Ahead of me, Jessie was creeping along the floor toward the wall with the French door. I reached to grab her ankle, but too lateâshe was standing and
then she had whisked out from behind the tapestry. I had no choice but to leap to my feet and follow her.
A fearful glance showed me the fallen Gille, lying facedown in his own blood. Kneeling beside him, with his back to us, was Captain Shark, busily tugging at the dead man's coat and going through the Frenchman's pockets.
I think Jessie had believed that both men were gone. Seeing her mistake, she quickly, quietly stepped to the open window, put a leg over the sill, and slipped through. But her landing made a crunch that seemed as loud to me as the crack of doom itself!
Shark's head snapped around, quick as a serpent's strike. With an oath, he snatched up his bloodstained cutlass!
Not even thinking, I dived headfirst for the window, taking the filmy curtain with me. To my horror, the pirate was so quick that I felt his hand close on my ankle, jerking me to a stop and bringing me crashing to earth on my chin. Yellow light flashed in my eyes, and my head spun.
I did not pass out, though, and yanked my leg
hard, bracing with my other foot against the window-sill. Jessie was standing, and when she saw what was happening, she thought fast. I heard another crunch and a howl of pain, and my ankle was free. I tumbled down and sprang to my feet, tearing the curtain away from me. Jessie had slammed the window sash down on Shark's wrist, so hard that I imagined she broke some bones. His hand was caught, the fingers clenching in fury. I heard muffled curses from behind the window and knew we had to move fast.
“Come on!” I gasped, and set off at a run for the back of the house and the dining room.
Like the study, the dining room, too, had French doors. They were probably locked, but that did not stop me. Through them I could see Mr. Meade, his back to me, standing and waving his hand as he spoke to Captain Hunter. I raised my leg and gave the lock of the door an almighty flat-footed kick. The doors flew inward, glass shattering from the panes, and Jessie and I were inside, and I was yelling across the table, “Captain! Treachery! Come on!”
We hurtled past the astonished form of Mr.
Meade. Hunter threw his chair back, leaped onto the table himself, his sword already drawn and, with a whisk of the blade, he cut the rope holding the big chandelier. He had jumped to the floor and had grabbed my arm when the massive thing smashed onto the table behind him, plunging us into darkness. Glass flew everywhere. Hunter pushed me and dragged Jessie into the hall, slammed the door behind him, and jammed a chair beneath the handle. “Where's Brixton?” he demanded of me.
I pointed toward the front of the house. “There! But I don't knowâ”
The study door ahead of us flew open, and a wild-eyed Captain Shark lunged out, cherishing his broken right hand against his chest and brandishing his cutlass with his left. He cursed and raised the sword awkwardly, but Hunter had whipped out a pistol. It went off right beside my ear, deafening me and causing me to close my eyes in shock. When I opened them, only Shark's legs were visible, the rest of his body thrown back inside the study doorway. He must have been wounded, not killed, for he moved his legs, as if
trying to get up again. Hunter pushed me again, and I jumped over the outstretched, twitching legs.
In the entry hall, I pointed to the paneling. “Behind there, but I don't know how it works!”
Hunter made no ado about that. As I had done, he kicked at the paneling, and it split beneath his boot. Another kick, and he had broken a hole the size of my head. He grabbed this, and with a grunt shoved left and right. A blow of his shoulder made something crack, and the panel gave inward.
Hunter took a step into the room and then stopped. I heard him groan.
Unlike the other rooms, this one had only one candle. In its feeble light, though, I saw ruin. Poor Captain Brixton lay stark dead upon the bed, his head thrown back and his throat cut from ear to ear. The villains must have done that when they first came into the house.
Hunter whirled and said, “There's no helping him. Out, quickly!”
By then I could hear distant shouts. We plunged out the front door into the night. A pirate, one of Shark's men, was almost to the gate. He heard us and turned, cutlass out, but Hunter was on him
with a furious rain of sword-cuts. The pirate screamed for help, but in the instant that he turned his attention away, Hunter raised his sword and punched the man square in the face with the pommel, stretching him out on the ground.
“Fly!” Hunter yelled. “To the ship!”
We were through the gate and stumbling on the rutted road, but Hunter dragged Jessie and me into the woods. “This way is better,” he said.
Seconds later, hoofbeats drummed past on the road. One of the pirates, I supposed, going for reinforcements.
“Sir,” I panted, “Captain Steeleâ”
“Tell me about him later,” snapped Hunter. “Across this field!”
I suppose that we ran through a tobacco field. It was planted with something that had been harvested but had left little stumps, anyway. The moon gave us just enough light to make running dangerousâwhat we thought was solid ground would turn out to be a hole or a stone in our path. Still, we cut across the field, through some woods, and then came out on another road. We turned left on it, toward Cayona. Some little farmhouses were
scattered along our way, and as we passed them, dogs barked and once, a donkey brayed forlornly.
But we were going downhill, at least. At last we saw lights ahead, and then we were on the outskirts of town. Hunter had learned the lay of the land well. He led us at a smart clip through winding narrow alleys until we came to the very wharf where the
lay tied. “All aboard?” he asked the astonished Mr. Gray as we hurried up the ship.
“Aye, sir, but the doctor's party is just on the point of going back for Captain Brixton,” said Gray.
“He need not bother,” Hunter said shortly. “Cast off, and make sail. We're minutes ahead of men who wish us ill!”
“Aye,” Gray replied, and in a second he was barking orders that brought men swarming up from belowdecks.
Uncle Patch came onto the deck as well, his face showing open wonder. “What the blazes is afoot?” he demanded, his voice peevish.
“They killed Brixton,” Hunter told him flatly. “I've escaped by the grace of God and the skin of my teeth. Davy's safe, and so is his friend here. How is Lieutenant Fairfax?”
“Well enough and entirely unhurt. But what the devil happened?”
“Captain Steele!” I shouted.
“Later,” ordered Captain Hunter.
“Listen, William,” my uncle said in an odd voice, “There's something I must tell you about Fairfaxâ”
“Later,” Hunter said again.
I tried once more: “Captain Steele isâ”
“Later!” roared Hunter.
My uncle was saying, “Lieutenant Fairfax isâ”
“Quiet!” Hunter shouted, in a voice of command that made both of us hush. He then said, “Later we'll have a council of war. But the first thing to do is to get the ship safely to sea!”
Already sails were dropping and filling with the night breeze, and already the
was gliding away from the wharf. The moon went behind a cloud. I heard, or imagined I heard, the clatter of hoofs from somewhere ashore. But if it was Steele, or Steele's men, they were too late. The
and those who sailed on her were safe.
At least for the moment.
MEADE WAS STEELE?
Captain Hunter stood in the middle of his great cabin, his mouth opened like that of a hooked fish.
“Aye, and probably still is,” said Uncle Patch, sprawled in one of the chairs, his blunt, powerful fingers massaging his forehead.
Hunter clenched both fists. “I had himâ¦ he was there, right there, across the table from me â¦ Jack Steele himself â¦ thunder and blast! Why didn't you tell me?”
“Because Davy did not know,” said Lieutenant Fairfax from where he sat slumped forward with his head on the captain's table. “None of us knew. I
did not, and I saw the man almost every day for near a month.”
William Hunter strode back and forth across the length of the cabin like a tiger in a cage. Jessie and I were sitting on his cot, and I was hoping he would forget we were there.
“How could I
have known!” Hunter raged. “Why did not I notice? He fit every description of the monster!”
“Calm yourself, now, William. You will worry yourself into an apoplexy!” Uncle Patch snapped, still rubbing his forehead. “Tall and pale, so your description of Steele goes. Well, Meade was tall and pale, but he faded into the background, so he did, save for that white wig that made you overlook every other feature. He made us see just what he wanted us to see, just as you do in your ridiculous pirate costume.”
Hunter drew himself up with injured dignity. “It is not the same thing at all.”
“It is,” chimed in Lieutenant Fairfax in his curiously soft voice. “You parade in your marvelously dramatic pirate garb, so no one will see the naval officer you so obviously are. Captain Steele dresses
in drab colors so you would not see the pirate in crimson and red everyone is terrified of.” He leaned back into his chair. “Are all seafaring men so theatrical?”
At that last comment, Hunter frowned, and my uncle glared at the young man, who sighed. “I'm not a complete popinjay, Dr. Shea. I may not have recognized the most notorious freebooter north of the Spanish Main, but I do have ears. I have heard Meade speak of Steele's plans. His own plans, though he spoke in the third person. I believe Captain Steele is trying to unite all the Brethren of the Coast into one force, commanded, of course, by himself. I believe he was using the late Monsieur Gille to further that purpose. Monsieur Gille was not truly the sponsor of the piratesâSteele was. Gille was a foolish man whom he worked like a puppet on strings.”
“Tortuga Harbor is filled with pirate ships,” Hunter mused, while my uncle nodded grimly. “United under one commander, they would be the greatest single force in the West Indies. We must do something.”
So for the next several hours, the adults plotted
and planned back and forth, or Hunter and Uncle Patch did, with the occasional comment from Fairfax. His words just seemed to annoy my uncle. Finally, the captain threw up his hands. “There's nothing for it. We can't do this alone. We're going to need help. We're going to need the