It was raining as I made my way through the mean streets – the sort of rain that washes everything away except the dirt. The sky was the colour of the water in a vase two days after the flowers had died. If anyone had any sense they were warm and dry indoors. For me, it was just another day in Nameless. My name's Tegan Jovanka, and I'm a private dee.
I'd been working the Williams divorce for days, and the evidence I'd come up with, if you put it in a pile, wouldn't have been enough to crush a redback spider. If I hadn't needed the money, I'd have told Williams to pack it in days ago. Walking along that street, I wished I had. I might've been even more broke, then, but at least I wouldn't have had rain dripping down my neck. For all the good they did, the trenchcoat and fedora might as well have been tissue paper.
By the time I made it to my office, I didn't have any thoughts except a quick bath and a slow bourbon. But I looked in the mailbox anyway, like I always do. Habit, I suppose. There's never anything there except bills and bad news.
This time, it was bad news. Doc Smith at the harbour's an old mate, and he slips me the odd bit of information now and again – and I do him a favour now and again, to keep him sweet. He'd heard there was a ship, the Camilla, docking that evening, and there was something shonky about the cargo.
I burned the message, and wondered if it was anything I should look into. It wasn't anything I'd been hired for, but Doc Smith had a good nose for when something didn't add up. And perhaps there might be a reward in it. I could do with the money.
I put the bath off, gulped down the bourbon, and set out for the docks.
Crouching behind a stack of crates, I watched as the men unloaded the ship. They were dressed like dockworkers, but they weren't – too many scars, and I could see the bulges under their clothes where they carried their guns. And the goods they were unloading weren't the sort to make me sleep easily at night. They were long, wrapped in oilcloth, and obviously heavy. Guns, I was sure. Enough of them to fight a small war and have enough left over to hold up half the banks in Nameless.
Then a man strolled up who wasn't dressed as a docker, and I realised just how serious this was. He wasn't much to look at – short, with a shaven head, and on the chubby side – but nothing happened in Nameless without Councilman Sabbath's say-so. Everyone knew he was the man behind two-thirds of the speakeasies in the town. Now it looked like he wanted to go further.
That's where I made my big mistake. I decided that whatever his business here was, it was way out of my league. So I tried to get away without being seen. I crawled out from under the crates, and crept along the wall of one of the quayside warehouses.
If I'd done it a minute before, or a minute after, it'd have worked. But just at that moment, a big sedan drove up, with more of Sabbath's men. The headlights pinned me to the wall like a butterfly on a counterpane. There wasn't anywhere for me to run to. The car screeched to a halt, and armed thugs jumped out of the back. More came running up from the quayside.
I struggled in their arms, but there wasn't anything I could do. Sabbath's goons were the sort of blokes where you wonder if he found them on the street or in a zoo. The smallest was easily twice my size and three times my weight. In seconds I was on the ground with several new bruises, with my arms and legs firmly held. One of the brighter specimens frisked me and pocketed my gun and notebook.
"What's going on?" Sabbath's voice asked. "Who's this?"
I was dragged up in front of him. He gave me one long look, like a judge deciding whether he'd need his black cap today.
"Sink her," he said. He might have been choosing whether to have the steak or the fish at a restaurant.
One of the goons lumbered off. When he came back, he had a lump of concrete with a ring in it, and a length of chain. The chain went round my ankles, then through the ring. Then they headed for the quayside – two of them carrying me, the other one holding the concrete. I was still trying to free myself from them, but I don't think they even noticed. It must have been a regular old routine for them.
"Nobody move, if you don't want a trip to Davy Jones!" a voice shouted. It sounded like a young woman, and it came from somewhere up among the dockside cranes. Sabbath and his hired muscle were looking this way and that, trying to see where the woman was. One of them must have spotted something, because he fired a burst into the maze of shadows. A moment later, he was lying on the quay in a pool of his own blood.
"I think there are three things you need to know," the woman said. "One, I never miss. Two, I've got plenty more bullets where that came from. And three, look behind you."
They did. Somehow – and don't ask me how it happened, because I haven't a clue – a full-size pirate galleon had appeared just off the quayside. Its gunports were open, and the cannons were pointing directly at us.
"Lay down your weapons," the woman went on. "Or there won't be enough of you left to bury."
"Ventilate her!" Sabbath shouted. He and several of his men raised their guns and fired, in more or less the right direction. But it didn't work. The next thing I knew, a sheila in a striped top and trousers, with a bandana round her head, had swung down on a rope right into the middle of us. She had an old-fashioned pistol in one hand, a cutlass in the other.
Of course, Sabbath and his men had their guns out, but if they fired they'd have risked hitting each other. That moment of hesitation was enough for the pirate girl to take two of them out. After that, they did fire, but it didn't make things any better for them. She went through them like a tiger snake through a nest of mice. In minutes those who hadn't run for it were on the ground, and not looking like they'd get up again any time soon. That left me, all on my own in the middle, still chained to the lump of concrete.
"Hello," the pirate said. She was standing over me, a girl with golden hair and the face of an angel. One of Lucifer's angels, perhaps. "I think you're my prisoner."
I held up my hands. "I surrender."
"That's what I like to see." She whistled, and a rope snaked down from somewhere above us. "Catch hold of this."
"I'm a bit tied up at the moment," I said, gesturing to my ankles.
"Oh, right." She bent over the chains. "Shoddy job. I can see a sailor didn't do this. Who were those people?"
"You mean you didn't know– That was Sabbath! One of the biggest bosses in this town!"
"I noticed that. He should be more careful about what he eats."
"That isn't what I meant. I suppose you didn't kill him?"
"I think he got away." She whacked the chains with the butt of her old-fashioned pistol, and my legs were free. "Now, take this rope and hold on."
I caught hold; so did she. She gave another whistle, and the two of us were hauled up, then swung onto the deck of the ship.
"Welcome aboard the Sea Wolf," my captor said. "I'm Captain Vicki. Be sensible and you'll be treated well. Any trouble, and you'll be sharkfood. Mister Taylor!"
A tough-looking bosun hurried up.
"Hoist the mainsail. I want us out of sight of the coast by dawn." As the bosun dashed off, she gave me an appraising look. "You're not rich, are you?"
"Hardly," I said.
"And there's no-one who'd ransom you?"
She shrugged. "Then you've got a choice. Locked up in the hold until I find somewhere to maroon you, or sign on as part of my crew."
"But you... you're really a pirate? And the ship... how can you even..."
"Sign up with me, and maybe you'll find out." She flashed a grin at me that could've made the Pope forget his vows. "Think about it. Only not for too long."
The bosun had returned. "We're under way, Captain."
"Great. Oh, what did you load the cannon with?"
"Double-shotted, Captain. Grape and roundshot."
She gave another of those grins. "Well, it'd be a shame to waste it all, wouldn't it?"
"Aye, aye, Captain."
He hurried below. A moment later, every cannon on that side of the ship fired, with a noise like all the fireworks of five Australia Days at once. If any of Sabbath's gang were still alive and on the quayside, they certainly weren't after that bombardment. Fires began to spring up among the devastation.
"A tot of rum all round!" Captain Vicki called.
"You got it, then, Captain?" another crewman asked.
"I certainly did, Mr Mate." She reached into her silk shirt and pulled out a rolled parchment. "This is the map to the Lost Treasure of Rassilon. And now it's ours for the taking!"
The crew cheered. I turned away and looked back at the city. I'd spent all my life there, and I wouldn't miss it for a second.
"Made up your mind?" the Captain's voice asked. I turned. She was standing behind me, watching the docks burn, with a faint smile on her face. I made up my mind: whatever happened, I didn't want her for my enemy.
"I'll sign on with you," I said.
She nodded. "Sensible choice. Glad to have you on board, Tegan."
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