Anything But Tobacco
This is not the first time he and his crew pretend to be merchants. The way to go about it is simple and he might have been inspired by stories heard in taverns from men too drunk to lift their empty mugs off the surface of the tables in front of them once more.
“Here she comes,” Silver mutters.
Near the foredeck, Logan scans the crew of the Spaniard through the spyglass. The crew of the Walrus is silent, for once, waiting in anticipation. It is electrifying. It reaches for him, but the weight of Gates’ body is still on his and Flint closes his eyes for a moment, waiting for the Spanish to hail them, and for the memory of his friend’s dead figure on him to vanish. This is not the time to feel guilt.
Name of the ship. Name of the captain.
“Casadore,” Flint tells Silver, “Marco Fernandez, captain.”
To his right, Silver repeats the words. His shout travels across the distance between both ships. Flint holds his breath. No canon blasts are the Spanish reply.
Last port. Cargo of their trade.
“Saint Augustine.” Dufresne had told him, and Flint is nothing if not aware that the accountant was right, but he has to prove his point, has to put his men right where they belong. “Tobacco trade.”
It is not even the first time they pretend to be Spanish. His head rests against the Walrus’ wooden banister as he listens to the syllables that roll off the tip of Silver’s with seemingly no effort.
“Saint Augustine, comercio de tobaco.”
Years ago, more than a decade, what now feels like another lifetime, another life altogether, more of a dream than a faint memory, fading as it is in colour and strength, Thomas lay on his bed with Cervantes’ Don Quijote de la Mancha in his hands.
The green spine of the book cracked softly between Thomas’ long, gentle fingers. With his thumb, Thomas stroked the thin pages and the dark ink in which they were drowning. His lips formed the foreign words with ease. They sounded like music in James’ ears as he found himself wishing to press his own lips against Thomas’. But it couldn’t happen. Not here in his lodgings. The thought of his landlady walking in on him-
He would have preferred the shadows of any of the ships he had been serving on. Their narrow, sharp turns. The darkness that allowed him and a fellow midshipman to meet, unseen and unheard. Their secret only known to the waves hitting the ship’s hull, to the sails flapping above their heads, and to the vast silence of the ocean.
Compared to Thomas- it was nothing. A dangerous play. Stolen touch. Breathed kisses. Flesh on flesh. It was not the smell of soap, of ink, and wine. It was the scent of salt, gun powder, and sweat. Greasy skin. Creaking boards and aching masts. Not carriages going past the house down below in the muddy streets, not even breaths. It was rough, panted breaths, bruised skin being the only evidence of something, of anything happening. Marks covered by uniforms and the dark. Here they sat in their shirts, hair askew and the touch of Thomas’ foot against his thigh is careful. Meant only to gain his attention, not to harm in hasty lust.
“Have you been listening, lieutenant?”
Amusement tugged on the corners of Thomas’ mouth, but there was worry in his eyes. They reminded him of the stormy sea. Of sky-high waves. Of rain hitting his face, cutting his cheeks. Of clothes soaked and of sliding across the main deck. Thomas was the middle of a tempest. The calmest point.
“I asked you a question,” Thomas said. “Are you feeling quite well?”
James followed the book with his eyes as James placed it onto the blanket beside himself. “Yes, my lord.”
He could almost feel it. Something was off but he could not have said what. Something awful was going to happen. To Thomas. To Miranda. To himself. Beneath his feet, the floorboards seemed to shift although he was on land. Maybe it was the lack of the steady motion that he had become so accustomed to that was missing.
He rose to his feet. Thomas shouldn’t be here. If people were to know. If rumours were to spread. If someone was to see or hear too much.
Outside the window life continued without taking notice of him and Thomas in the same room. Addressing each other by their first names. Reading to another. Thomas repeating Spanish words and him echoing them until an approving smile reached Thomas’ eyes, until he was rewarded with a hand brushing his, with kisses so faint they might have been only be part of his imagination. The world outside of his room did not know. Below in the streets life bustled, oblivious to what society would call a scandal, to what Thomas called love and for what James had no words.
Up here he felt the collar of his shirt tighten around his throat. Maybe it was the thought of it being a noose instead that made his hands tremble. That made him fear for the things he and Thomas did at night to reach the light of day, to be exposed, and exploited.
Thomas leant against the wall to his right. No words crossed his lips. The smile was genuine and James’ legs were those of a landlubber getting off a ship, quivering, unsure of whether the land would hold his weight.
We will be all right, he told himself as doubts gnawed at him like hungry dogs in a deserted alley. Thinking too much about what could go wrong equals an invitation.
Sunshine broke through the window. He shivered and turned to Thomas who stepped closer. It was Thomas who overcame the distance between them, who pressed his forehead against his, and who smiled as James met his lips halfway.
Thomas, James thought as the back of his knees hit the edge of his mattress, Thomas is my compass.
It is shouts in the distance. A smile directed at him from above, and a soft: “Hello” from Silver that pull Flint back onto the deck of the Walrus, that haul him across the Atlantic ocean and back into merciless heat of the Bahamas. He sits up and watches over the railing. The Spaniard sails past them. The hunt is on. Mad men as his crew are they will follow his orders without questions. They have done more than to fire at a ship from behind for less of a reward.
“Warhead to their stations,” he instructs, voice hardly above a whisper, “quietly, if you please.”
He is the only chance they have at securing the Urca gold, and they damn well know it. “300 yards, we open fire.”