He shuddered at the memory of Wolfe, the steel-cold eyes boring into his own and the two hands upon his shoulders pressed him down into the chair. The words had hung in the stale cabin air on bittersweet breath, warm and moist, face to his own.
“Why is my cargo hold filled with goods stamped with the mark of the East India Trading Company?”
He had tried to explain. Perhaps the source was not nearly as reliable as Wolfe had thought. Maybe they were trying to get him caught for theft and piracy. Why would the mark have been so obvious if there was not a reason for it? But. If all that had been the case, then why would HE have not left the goods alone on the pier and simply come back to report it? There was no excuse for his own behavior and at the end it had all come out; the rum, the rum, the very considerate guardsmen, and of course, the rum. He promised it was a mistake he would never make again, at least not on purpose and most certainly not in any foreseeable future if he was to remain aboard the Morning Zephyr.
Jack rowed harder toward the Kingston dock, the sun large and orange above the horizon line. His plan was a relatively simple one; return the goods belonging to the East India Company and collect those he was supposed to have collected in the first place. That was his assignment, and he knew he could not face Wolfe without either the goods or, well, he did not know what. His mind kept returning to the expression on Wolfe’s face, by this time practically branded upon his memory. It was the look, not of anger nor annoyance, exasperation or even wrath. It was disappointment. Redemption would be a long hard road and Wolfe might still send him packing at the next port they would make berth. What would he do then? Certainly his father could not take him back. That in itself was a whole other Pandora’s box of remembrances and further unpleasantries. He would forever be an outcast to his father’s family; the wife with her blond-haired blue-eyed little cherubs would forever see him for exactly what he was.
“You bastard!” Stark had yelled at him. “You are lucky the Captain throws it in with your lot. If I were he, I would dump you in the ‘arbor right here and see how well you made your way.”
“I can swim.” Jack had replied.
Everyone makes mistakes sometimes.
As he neared the dock, Jack thought he could see the two guards from the previous evening walking along the piers one by one, seemingly looking for something, or someone, he thought.
This little exchange was not going to be nearly as easy as he had thought it would be. He turned the boat and headed for pier three.
It was completely empty.
A short way off, Jack tied up the boat, double-checking to make sure the goods were well hidden and covered. He had disguised the crates beneath some old crummy fishing equipment – things he was sure were so dilapidated that no one would want – before leaving the Zephyr. Pleased with his forward planning, he brushed off his coat and made for Kingston with a sigh of resignation and a slight swagger.
The torches were just being lit as he reached the town proper. Along the street, shops were closed for the night and the few stragglers were either heading home or making for the tavern. Oh, the tavern! For a brief moment, Jack could not but long for an evening of song, dance, drink, and debauchery. Just one look. He did not even have to go in.
Jack stole around the side of the building, slightly cramped in the dark alleyway. He moved some empty abandoned crates over to the window and stepped up to peer inside through the amber glass, thick and nearly opaque. He could hear a lot better, it seemed, but in order to see things, he had to pry open the window a crack.
Seamen, locals, and prostitutes made up the majority of the populous there. An Irishman was singing a song about something unintelligible, a game of dice in a corner, a woman in another. She caught his eye and smiled at him, revealing a stretch of milky white leg. He nodded in acknowledgement, a roguish smirk upon his lips. Thinking the better of it just then, but not caring, he was about to go inside when he overheard heard familiar voices at the table directly beneath his window.
“I think she’s eyeing me, Gavrel.” The one guard said to his companion.
“Maybe she is, maybe she is. You can take her if you like. Beckett said we’d be put in here until the situation is resolved. Now me? I say that rapscallion of a boy is long gone by now, but what I want to know is who employed him in the first place? May just be me, but boys don’t run off with whole shipments of the East India Company.”
“You ain’t said nothing to the Cap’n, have you?”
“Not a word, and you had better not go flapping your trap about it either.”
“I thought for sure he was going to have our heads over it.”
“Not,” interrupted Jack, “if you help me return them.”
Gavrel and his companion turned their heads up to the window. “Why if it isn’t our little friend!”
Jack beamed, grinning something phony, “Terrible mistake that, but certainly if we just replace the goods onto Beckett’s ship he will be so completely astounded and surely reward you handsomely for the retrieval. Then I can go back to my ship and- ”
“Hey now!” Gavrel’s companion looked sharply at the wild-haired youth in the window. “You tried that one before. What’s to keep us from just turning you in to the Captain hisself?”
“I have no idea what you mean.” Jack replied austerely. “It was an unfortunate mischance that the cargo for the East India Company was on the very pier where my own shipment was supposed to be. All I want to do now is to return the goods to their proper owner and go along my merry way, savvy?”
Gavrel eyed him carefully. “You’re afraid of being accused, aren’t you? Accused of anything really, because an honest man would honestly be unafraid and yet there is clearly something you are trying to hide.”
Jack stared at him, affecting as blank an expression as he could muster.
The guardsman continued, “First of all, you talk like a proper Englishman yet you look like you were dragged out of a Spanish colony. Maybe you have no parents, maybe you do and you’ve run away. You’re young. Perhaps you’re just a common thief, but no common thief would manage to connive away a whole shipment of goods. I for one believe you and for what it’s worth me and Jeeves here would be more than willing to aid you in your quest to return the missing goods to Captain Beckett’s cargo hold.”
Jack thought for a moment, somewhat confused and surprised at the same time, having expected anger instead of an attempt at something more suspect. “And so what do you want from me in exchange?”
“We get off scott-free for being crazy enough to believe the tales of a drunken boy. That’s all.” Gavrel smiled serenely.
Jack thought about it for a moment and then leaned partially through the window, extending a hand. “We have a deal then.”
“Absolutely.” Gavrel shook his hand and Jack knew he would have to be alert for the rest of the evening because the guards were clearly up to something but whatever it was, he did not know.
“For the record, however, I was not drunk.”
Moving the goods onto the Golden Glimmer proved simple enough in the middle of the night, in the dark, with two guards to help him. “Over there,” Jack pointed, arranging the crates just so. He wanted it to be clearly obvious that the missing product was now safe at home where it should have been in the first place. “No, no, a little more to the- ” he stepped backwards, and tripping over something he could not see, landed with a crash into a wall of crates, toppling them and landing in a pile in the middle of the hold. A light flashed before his eyes and he thought he heard something, “looks like he did it to himself after all,” before everything went black and consciousness slipped like grease through his fingers.
“So this is the little thief?”
Jack heard the severe voice snap and slowly the blur came into focus. It was a fitting voice for such a sharp figure, he thought. He raised a hand to his head and gestured as he tried to form his thoughts into coherent words. “Not-a-thief-just…”
“We found him back in there almost as soon as we’d gotten everything loaded back into the hold.” Jack heard the words as they came from Gavrel, but he closed his eyes, and before the blackness returned, the harsh voice said, “Take him to the magistrate. We’ll deal with him later.”
The gaol cell was cold.