Captain Red

I watched the thoughts crawl their way sluggishly across Agro’s craggy features. They were easy to recognise, being simple and basic as the man himself. I saw nothing but the childlike bliss of a hungry man eating good food, so I decided it was probably safe to cut into my own steak. A quick glance at Roger told me he’d had the same idea, waiting for the big guy to eat first. Joe on the other hand was too busy avoiding eye contact with the beautiful and persistent Veronica Blade to worry about whether his food was safe. At the head of the table, Captain Red had also noticed our caution and was, outwardly at least, extremely amused.
“Really, Karl, if I wanted you dead I’d have killed you months ago, when you were tied to my bed,” she said, green eyes sparkling in the candlelight. An image flashed into my mind, of dark hair and pale skin on white satin sheets after too many watermelon cocktails. Then I remembered what came next, and my grin faded away.
I swallowed and reached for my wine, which was also extremely good. I wondered how she managed a meal like this so many weeks’ sailing away from anything resembling a farm.
“There are worse things than dead, my dear,” I said, not quite feeling the nonchalant tone.
“Aw, and you don’t trust me any more?”
“I never did, that was half the fun.”
“Pirates,” she muttered, rolling her eyes. “You imagine a fate worse than death and you still turn up and drink my wine.”
“It’s good wine,” I said with what I hoped was a disarming smile. I drained my glass and reached for the bottle.
“So if you don’t want to play with me anymore, why did you come?”
“Who said I didn’t want to play? No decisions have been made at this point,” I said, ignoring the intake of breath from Roger and Joe. “Right now I’m just trying to find out what the game is.”
“Ah, I see. You’re here to find out what I want. Ok, here it is. You’re into something, Karl, and I want to know what it is.”
I was somewhat taken aback. Even though she was only telling me what I already knew, this kind of honestly, to openly admit what she didn’t know, was almost against the rules. I felt my mind instinctively leap to the obvious conclusion, trying to work out what the real scam was, but I didn’t have enough to go on.
“I’m sorry, Karl, did I say something wrong?”
“He’s wondering what you’re really up to, Ma’am,” said Roger, leaning across the table and helping himself to more potatoes. “Reckon the rest of us are too,” he said, “‘sept maybe Agro. Agro don’t wonder about very much, to be honest.”
“Look I don’t understand why we can’t all be friends. I know Ronnie would like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, Cap’n,” said Veronica, grinning and leaning closer to Joe. “I’d like that very much.”
“I was prepared to, as you say, be friends,” I said, “I was prepared to give you the benefit of whatever doubt a buccaneer flag allows us, and then you betrayed us, took the prize and left us drugged and drifting in the middle of the Eastern Ocean. It was a miracle my ship found us at all. What’s friendly about that?”
“They didn’t kill us, Cap’n,” rumbled Agro between fistfuls of burnt meat, “Left us alive, gave us a chance. S’dangerous wiv a man like you. Gotta count for sumink.”
Red raised a shapely eyebrow at me.
“He does have a point,” she said. “It would certainly have been safer to kill you. And look at you, you did ok. Here you are, no worse for wear, still in command … you have a lot to be thankful for.”
“But if you’d killed me you wouldn’t be able to steal my stuff again, would you? Where’s the fun in that?”
Red leaned forward and looked deep into my eyes. “Why don’t we just skip to the bit where you tell me what you’re here for so we can break out the rum and get the party started?”
“Cap’n they got rum, an’ it ain’t gone!,” said Roger. I could see the same thoughts echoed on the faces of Joe and Agro.
I stood up. “I’m sorry, Red, I really am. But I’m not going to tell you what we came for. You’ll have to work that out for yourself. Come on, lads, while we can still row home.”
“And what makes you think I’ll just let you leave?” said Red, still wearing that infuriating, sultry smile.
“Because my crew isn’t like yours.”
“Hey!” cried Veronica.
“Sorry, Ronnie. What I mean is that my crew won’t abandon me and bugger off with my ship at the first sign of weakness. My crew will stay here and fight to free me, Red, you know they will. And you can’t outfight the Broken Heart. You’ve known that since we met. That’s why you had to trick us.”
“Well, mostly it was more fun to trick you, but I get your point. Thing is, though,” said Captain Red, lifting a pair of pistols from their place under her chair and pointing one at me and the other at Roger, “I also know what your crew is like, and I expect we have several days before their faith in their legendary captain wavers. Long as we don’t sail away they’ll assume the four of you are … entertaining me and my crew. You’ll tell me what I want to know long before they come looking for you.”
Joe was frozen and sitting bolt upright, his posture and stillness left no doubt about where Ronnie’s blade was resting. I nodded slowly, playing for time, watching Agro with my peripheral vision as he caught up, stopped eating and realised no-one had a weapon on him. I dived for cover as he lifted his chair, and a breath later Red fired, narrowly missing both me and my cabin boy, and then the air filled with splinters and screaming as Agro overturned the table and started hitting stuff.