Written by: Rosemary Wakelin
The first thing that hit Adam as he stepped off the sloped companionway and into the Mess was the god-awful stench, like rancid salted pork and seriously spoilt rum.
One of the drunken men lay sprawled out on a nearby bench-seat. His short, chubby arms hung like sausages in a butcher’s chill-room. He was snoring, throaty, erratic snores trumpeting in short bursts. Drool dribbled from his thin, cracked lips, landing in a chunky, pasty-coloured puddle.
Adam shoved his hand hard against his nostrils and cringed. “What the….”
From his immediate left, Gerard appeared wearing an impressive look of confusion, all wide-blown eyes and crinkled frowns. “That’s Shark-tooth Sal,” he said, “spewed his guts out… tried getting him to the Head, clean him up, but he just keeled over.” Gerard then motioned to the slumped figure by the far wall. “The other one is Squid-Lips Pete… prefers being called Squiddly.”
Adam stilled, found Gerard’s matter-of-fact tone highly disturbing. “Tell me you are joking.”
“I wish I was, Sir. But it gets even stranger when you listen to what Squiddly has to say.”
They wove through several wooden tables, all perfectly aligned like well-seasoned soldiers, strong and dependable. Squid-Lips Pete however, appeared anything but. His green eyes rolled in true groggy style as he clumsily stroked his long, wiry beard, an ambush of grey and black hairs and who knows what other less desirable visitors. Tattoos coated his sun-baked arms, most noticeably the clichéd image of skull and crossbones. He wore loose pants roughly cropped just below the knees and a long, dirty-white sleeveless shirt.
Squiddly managed a short stare. “Why be ye lookin’ at me slops like that?”
Adam attempted to speak, but couldn’t.
Thankfully, Gerard stepped in. “Squiddly, this is Adam Sheffield. He wants to know what you’ve told me.”
Did he? Adam was beginning to wonder.
Squiddly’s wobbly gaze oscillated between the two men. “I be a pirate,” he slurred. “True blooded… right back to me great granddaddy days. We be all pirates, even them righteous scum who marooned us here, just for takin’ a few pieces of eight.”
Adam avoided looking in Gerard’s direction, afraid what he’d see in his expression. Instead, he breathed deeply and squatted on his haunches.
“You’re trying to tell me that you and the men on the African Star, including your Captain, are bona-fide, old-world pirates.”
Squiddly cocked a lop-sided, toothless grin. “Aye.”
Adam whipped off his cap, used the back of his hand to wipe his hot, moist brow. This was crazy stuff, surely nothing more than some pathetic farce to gain control of the African Star. Something cold, unfriendly brushed his neck. He shivered, imagined time slow to a mere crawl. What the hell was going on?
“I be thinkin’ ye want your ship back.” Squiddly said. “I be thinkin’ ye want me help.”
“And you’d be thinking that, why exactly?”
Squiddly rubbed his hands together. “For them doubloons, of course, plenty of them pretties for all of us.”