Chapter Seventeen

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Closing one eye, I pressed my face to the wood. In the tiny crack beneath a crate, I could just make out a fuzzy shape, cowering in a corner.

"If we can shift some of these boxes, we can get it out without crushing it," I said, turning my head.

Johnny patted my shoulder, offering me a hand back up. Together we pushed aside crates of cargo and maneuvered into the small space. A plaintive meow reached us. I grabbed for it, but the ginger-haired cat wiggled free from its hiding spot and darted between some rum barrels stacked nearby.

Johnny made a grab for the cat but missed, colliding with the solid barrels. With a groan he rolled to his knees, rubbing the sore spot on his head.

"Try not to destroy our most precious cargo, aye?"

Hearing the captain's voice, Johnny shot to his feet. "Of course not, captain!"

Dark looked between the two of us. "Something amiss?"

"We have a stowaway it seems," I said. "Of the feline variety. A little ginger cat's hiding between the barrels there."

Dark knelt and peeked through the gaps. "She's wedged against the wall," he muttered. "Johnny, on the left, see if you can catch her."

He threaded his arm between two barrels, grappling for the cat. She must have fought back because Dark reached in further, nearly on his belly now, his hand snapping around like a moray after its prey.

"Damn cat," he cursed under his breath.

"To your right, sir," Johnny called, trying to see the commotion behind the barrels.

"She won't fit through here." Dark wriggled on the floor, his boots scraping the wood.

I moved to left side wall, picking the biggest opening I could find and shoving my arm in. I felt fur, then Dark's fingers snatching at the cat.

"I've got her!" I exclaimed. "Push her this way."

With a nudge, Dark handed me the struggling cat. She scratched at my fingers, but I managed to free her from the tight space and shove her into my jacket for safe keeping. I folded the fabric over her like a straitjacket, so she was contained.

Dusting himself off, Dark and then Johnny came over to see. I let her head poke out from the vee of my coat, where she mewed in annoyance.

"She's cute," Johnny remarked, gently stroking her furry head with a finger. The cat scowled and sniffed the digit. "Wonder what's she doing here?"

"Maybe she's a little rum runner," Dark joked. "She seems to have a liking for it."

I snorted. "Likely looking for mice and warmth."

"We could use a good mouser," Dark agreed, scratching her under the chin. "Once she gets accustomed."

"I'll take her to the galley for something to eat first. If that's alright, captain?"

Dark and I shared a look, but Johnny wasn't listening to us. He didn't draw any adverse meaning from our informal conversation with each other.

"Go ahead," he replied. "We're nearly ready to go ashore as it is. Johnny, I need you above."

"Yes, captain."

Dark dallied while Johnny gave one last farewell pat and hurried above.

"I'll catch you up tonight," he told me. "Have a few things to take care of."

He stroked the cat's ears and leaned over to brush his lips over my cheek before heading back up. Tucking the cat back in my coat, I dropped her off in the galley with Kaspar before returning to my bunk.

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