Gerard collapsed next to the bow, chest heaving. He gulped in deep breaths of air and gripped the ship’s railings, shaking uncontrollably. Adam watched in concern. During his shore leave, Gerard was an amateur boxer. Very little fazed him.
“That’s it!” Toby Mitchell kicked out at a coil of rope, sending it slithering across the deck like a twisted python. “Those bastards are playing us for fools!”
He strode towards the hold.
“Wait, sir!” Gerard called after him.
“What now?” Toby snapped.
Gerard unzipped his jacket. With fumbling fingers, he pulled out a flintlock pistol. A silver shark hovered over the trigger.
Adam stared at it in astonishment. It was a beautiful piece of craftsmanship. He’d seen something similar once before in a maritime museum. That gun had been over three hundred years old.
Toby’s eyes bulged. He strode back to Gerard and grabbed the pistol. “Where the hell did you get that?”
There was a loud bang. A dark cloud of sulphurous smoke billowed around them. When it cleared, Adam saw a bullet had splintered the deck half a metre away from Gerard’s foot. Adam glanced at his Chief Officer and saw for the first time a hint of uncertainty in Toby’s eyes as he stared at the gun in his hands.
Pointing it straight ahead, Toby edged down the steps leading into the bowels of the Aegean Sunset. Adam followed close behind. Gerard remained clinging to the railings, his eyes glazed.
When they reached the trapdoor of the cargo hold, Toby flung it open and Adam pointed a torch. Sal and Squiddly remained tied to their post, a pool of seawater forming around their legs. The ship was listing badly now.
“What’s going on?” Toby demanded.
Sal squinted up at them and gestured at the water.
“We’ll all be in Davy Jones’ Locker ere long if you don’t do something, guv.”
“Never mind that now,” Toby said. “What happened to Gerard?”
Sal gave a toothless grin and winked at Squiddly. “Saw the ghost, didn’t he?”
“Enough!” Toby held up the pistol. “I want the truth!”
Down in the hold, the shadows seemed to lengthen. The prisoners stared at the flintlock with wide eyes. In the faint light of the torch, Adam saw their tattoos were glistening with sweat.
“Cross me heart, guv, we’re not trying to run a rig this time,” Sal whispered. “You can’t take that blunderbuss. It belongs to the White Wench!”
Something splashed in the water behind Squiddly. Both pirates screamed. Adam dropped the torch. It clattered into the hold and went out. Despite their proximity to the African coast, Adam felt suddenly cold. The hairs on his arms rose up like a tiny army. It was so dark he couldn’t see his own hands.
“Sir?” he called out. “Do you have a lighter?”
He scrabbled in his own pockets, cursing that he’d given up smoking six months ago.
The only answer was the gurgle of the sea, seeping into the hold.