Chapter Five

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Sall had reached a subdued calm by the time he was below, and only three pirates remained to drop him on his back in his cell. His hands were shackled together in his lap. Sall groaned and lifted his head out of the bilge. His head spun.

'My water,' he said, voice croaking.

A pirate with a weepy red boil on his neck clanked the cage shut, stepped back and pocketed the keys. Damned pirates, Sall thought, as he withheld the flask. One of them had a face riddled with warts, another a scraggly, oily beard, his mouth stocked with mushy teeth let rot gray by the combined forces of scurvy and cheap tobacco. He looked bad. There were halfbreed mutts scavenging the docks alongside the gulls that were healthier than these men.

Sall's last employer had bred two dogs to guard his storehouses. They were big, slobbering beasts who kept half a pace behind him every time he walked the yard, and watched the property at night.

Sall was hired to watch the storehouses during the day. He knew his place there. Some dogs know they are dogs. Most men Sall had met had yet to learn.

'Now we got ya,' the dog with the boil said. 'Did we all lose on this grub?'

The others nodded their heads. The scurvy one bared his teeth, exposing his foul gums. 'Every penny.'

The one with the boil was taking charge. 'What do you boys think we should do with him?' He put the flask away inside his waistcoat and stepped up to the bars. His head shaded the light from the lantern another held. Sall moved into a sit and crossed his legs. The pirate was careful, and put a hand on the pistol crossing his belt. He leaned on the bars.

Sall looked at the pair behind him. One of them had a fishing knife in a sheath. The other was unarmed, but with the scurvy he wasn't much of a threat anyway. 'Granger'll have our necks if we hurt him too much,' he said.

'Granger's problems aren't mine,' said the one with the boil.

The scurvy one scratched at rashes on his legs. 'Underpaid me last week, but I'm off this ship once we make port anyway.'

'Aye, the Captain's luck's abandoned him,' the one with him agreed.

'Mine too, if I can't pay for treatment.'

Sall watched the pirate with the boil. He was looking down at Sall with a finger on the flintlock of his pistol. He said, 'it's about a week to Well's Rest, I don't think the big fella here's gonna last that long.'

Of this they all seemed to agree. Sall had known his days were numbered, but the captain couldn't control his crew. Those days would be fewer still if he couldn't find a way out. 'You'd mutiny?' he said.

The one with the boil hmmed. 'Mutiny's a fancy term for it,' he said.

A pistol wasn't much good at close range if he couldn't fire it. Sall spotted the flask's cork peeking out from behind the fold of his shirt, and saw an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. The time for them to hand him his water was long passed.

'I suppose,' Sall said, 'if any of us want something in this world we've gotta take it, right?'

The pirate's hand closed over his pistol. 'What's your meaning?'

'Well if you want your money back, you're going to have to either take it off the punta, or you're going to have to take it off your captain.'

The other two pirates became nervous, shuffled on their feet and looked at each other. They hadn't thought that far ahead. Dogs seldom did. 'Well,' said the one with scurvy.

'You could kill me in this cage,' Sall said. 'You sure could, but then you'd be right back at square one. Maybe worse off, if the Captain takes offence to your mutiny.' They heard the frankness to his tone, which they took to mean, and of course, he would.

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