Phineas has accidentally dropped himself into the sea. He is rescued, but the adventure that follows changes the very course of his life.
The water, warm and sultry, closed over his head, enveloping him, dragging him down. He thrashed and kicked, trying to fight to the surface. Water gushed into his still open mouth. Fetid, foul water sloshed up the back of his nose as he slammed his mouth shut.
Something grabbed his right arm and jerked him toward the surface. He just knew it was the manta ray, come to collect him. Just as quickly, something grabbed him by the back of the neck.
He opened his mouth to scream, but more water gushed in.
In another instant, he left the water entirely, lifted backwards by the nape of his neck. The middle of his back crashed onto a hard wooden bar, which he scraped over before tumbling roughly onto a narrow wooden floor.
He lay in a sodden heap, gasping for breath as the water gushed out of his face. Slobber poured out of his nose and mouth, and he tried not to throw up. His face lay in a cold puddle.
The edges of a boat rose above him, a rough boat that hadn’t seen paint in a very long time. The cold puddle in which his face lay was green, and pieces of mostly-eaten fruit bobbed in front of his face. A dead rat, gnawed open by something else, twirled into his view, drifting less than an inch in front of his nose.
“AHHHH!” he screamed and scrambled to his feet.
“Feenayuse!” Louise yelled from the window.
Something hit him furiously hard between his shoulders, and he fell face first into the puddle, the rat surging away on the tiny tidal wave he made. He pushed with his arms to raise himself.
Over the unpainted boat’s edge he saw Lourdburton, peering at him as if he was a sea monster, from the Kathryn B’s boat, not a hundred feet away.
“Hel… “ he started to yell, but he was whacked again, and fell back into the puddle, his forehead landing fully on the dead rat. The rat squished and squirted away.
A blanket flopped over him, and something, it felt like a bare foot, pressed down on his shoulders.
He wriggled his arms to raise his head out of the puddle. The boat rocked and waddled beneath him, the oars bumping and groaning in the oarlocks.
A man spoke in a rough, guttural language, probably Spanish. Another responded.
The boat bounced over a wave as they worked the oars quickly. Phineas tried to make sense of things, tried not to throw up, and tried not to cry. He didn’t want to get hit again.
It was dark under the blanket, but a little light crept in around the edges. A couple of fruit rinds danced a little pas de deux in front of him. The puddle shifted each time they pulled on the oars, sending little wavelets surging front and back, front and back.
The foot on his back made it deucedly hard to breath. He closed his eyes and tried not to think about the awful bare foot pressing against him. At least it was on the blanket, and not on his nice coat.
He lost track of time. They seemed to be rowing forever. The heat under the blanket was smothering – he tried not to think about the sailor’s foot sweating on him. The water in the bottom smelled dreadful. He knew Lourdburton was coming after him – it would only be a matter of time before the Kathryn B’s sailors showed these Spanish fellows what’s what. It was simply a matter of waiting for them, of not giving up, of avoiding the rat, and waiting until they shot these nasty buggers right out of the boat.
“Oh, please hurry,” he moaned.
“Silencio!” the man with the ghastly bare foot hissed, and crammed his heel into Phineas’ back.
The boat bumped over something solid in the water, and the puddle splashed up at him. The men suddenly rowed backwards, and the puddle raced to the front of the boat.
The rat, flattened where Phineas’ forehead had hit it, drifted up in front of his eyes and slowly, slowly twirled. The rat’s dead, black eye looked at him, staring him down. Challenging him.
“Bugger off,” Phineas whispered and spit on it.
The spit landed just behind the eye, a whit blot on bloody, brown and gray mat that was a rat.
He instantly regretted spitting. It wasn’t the rat’s fault that it was dead – the poor thing might even have been alive when he squished it. Poor thing. And now it had a gob of his spit on it.
They rowed the boat furiously forward, and the rat drifted away.
“Derecha! Derecha!” the bare-footed fellow yelled. Phineas knew it was him because he raised his foot with each word.
They veered to the left, and then boat leapt up at him and the puddle splashed him full in the face. The bottom boards hissed and groaned with the sound of sand squelching underneath.
At last the foot came off of his back, and the blanket was yanked away. He slowly raised himself to his knees and looked around.
It was a sandy beach, littered with scores of boats, all pulled up on the sand. Beautiful green palm trees, the first he’d ever seen, rose gracefully on thin stems into the brilliant blue sky.
His arms were quickly pinned behind him. He turned his head to see what was going on just as the blanket was thrown around him. Struggling with his arms, he pushed against the blanket, but the sailor was too strong.
In just a brief moment he was wrapped tightly inside the blanket, like a caterpillar in a cocoon. It was dark, and oh so stuffy, and the blanket was filthy. His only hope lay in Lourdburton showing up and showing these brigands the what for. He just had to hold on.
Suddenly his feet left the ground, and he was hoisted bodily in the air and flopped over a sailor’s shoulder like a rolled up rug. Bent at the waist, his legs and bottom half went down the man’s chest, while his upper half and arms and head were facing the man’s sweaty back. The cold wind did nothing to cool him off.
The blanket reeked of sweat and gunpowder and tar, and felt dirty and scratchy against his face. It was wrapped painfully tight and made him itch all over. He shuddered in revulsion.
The fellow who carried him bumped him into other people, into tree branches, up against walls. Hanging with his head upside down and unable to breathe very well, and terribly confused about this turn of events, Phineas’ mind began to drift.
I should count something, he thought dizzily. Footsteps of the man… that way, when I finally get out of this dreadful blanket… he was too dizzy to think of what he would do with his count of the man’s steps.
The noises of the harbor receded and were replaced by the noises of a town. Although there were occasional words of English that he recognized, words like “you” and “look out”, most of the words he heard were in Spanish.
He fell abruptly to the ground, and was quickly stood on his feet. Dizziness surged around him like a millwheel, making up seem like down and left seem like up. He wobbled on his heels.
Brilliant light flooded his eyes and the blanket was rudely jerked off of him. The bright sunshine seared into his dizzy eyes.
He looked around, expecting to see Lourdburton with a smoking pistol. A hand stuffed a thick wad of foul-smelling cloth in his mouth, and a bandanna was quickly tied around his face to hold it in place.
But he could still see.
The sailors had stood him at the edge of a large public square, lined with clapboard buildings, like those he was used to in Duxbury, except these were gaudily painted in bright colors. He strained to read the signs, some artfully worked words but others simple pictures. He quickly counted four taverns, and two inns before his attention was drawn to the wild open air market off to his left. Vendors bellowed out the merits of their wares, over the screeching of caged parrots, from stalls shaded by a forest of conical, thatched roofs.
He glanced at the crowd of people, dressed in all the colors of the rainbow, thronging the square, men and women alike, hoping to make eye contact with someone that might pay attention to him. There were richly dressed people in fine, brightly colored clothes, standing right next to pitifully poor people in dingy white shirts and pants. Nobody would even look at him.
“Hhhhhh… “he tried to bellow from behind the wad of cloth, but only a rumble came out.
A hand thwacked him heavily on the back. One of his kidnappers had hit him, and now grumbled something at him. Phineas turned to stare at his kidnappers, finally able to see who had plucked him from the harbor and dragged him here. He shut up instantly.
They were a pair of dark, evil looking pirates with mean, dirty faces and the long pigtails of sailors who had been at sea for a great many years. Their stained and tattered shirts and sailors trousers were little better than rags. One fellow had a big greasy black beard and carried a heavy sword through his belt. The other one had mossy green teeth and held the point of a shiny long knife at Phineas’ face and muttered to him in Spanish. The man terribly bad breath.
The green-toothed pirate placed his free hand on Phineas’ shoulder and whirled him around to face the square as the explosive sound of someone loudly beating a drum echoed off of the buildings. The man’s fingers gripped his shoulder like the talons of a hawk.
He felt a tinge of excitement. A parade was coming. Perhaps someone in the parade would notice that he had been gagged and would come to help him. He shivered in anticipation.
His excitement slowly drifted away as the parade unfolded before him.
At the front marched six ragged looking sailors carrying boarding pikes, long wooden poles with iron hooks on the tip. They jabbed them at the people in the street, forcing their way through the crowded marketplace.
Behind the boarding pike men marched an old ratty looking man banging a doleful tattoo on a wooden drum tied to his waist. On either side of him were a couple scragglier looking men dressed in rags and ringing little brass bells.
In back of this racket-making group marched a short man in a vivid red waistcoat. The stained white lace shirt beneath his buff colored vest was tucked into dark trousers that were so dirty Phineas couldn’t make out a color. He had a baldric across his chest, from which dangled a sword and into which he had thrust a pair of pistols. His wild red hair merged into an even wilder red beard beneath piercing blue eyes that were wilder still. He wore an enormous dark red hat with a big peacock feather stuck in it.
Behind him trudged an absolute giant – he must have been seven feet tall. His skin was the brown color of coffee, and his head was completely shaved. A terrible scar ran from the side of his mouth straight up through his eye and up his forehead. The stained shirt tucked into his trousers, and the trousers themselves, were far too small for him, making him look like a giant, evil schoolboy. Above his head he carried an ornate chair with long legs on it, rather like a baby’s high seat. He bore the chair in an easy silence, although the chair looked like it must have been quite heavy.
Next to this giant walked a man dressed in the purplest coat Phineas have ever seen. It was a glorious purple even though it was obviously now quite dusty. The broad, dark paisleys against the white lapels contrasted badly with that rich color. A long, dusty white feather bobbed out of his battered black hat. As he walked that outrageous coat fell open to reveal a half dozen pistols stuck in the front of his belt. The feather bobbed gaily with each of his steps.
In back of this strange trio came another knot of badly dressed sailors who danced and skipped drunkenly to the beat of the drum. When the drumming abruptly halted, as did the ringing of the bells, the dancing men crashed into each other and fell down.
The little man in red rolled his eyes. Phineas thought it was quite comical, but no one in the crowd around him, not even the kids, made a sound.
The little red man stepped to the front of the group. Without so much as a word from anyone the giant whisked the tall chair around and down directly behind the little man, who climbed into the chair as if it had always been there.
From his strange baby seat the little red man suddenly bellowed.
“Nat Hopkins!” he roared out in a voice almost as loud as Mr. Lourdburton’s.
The crowd on the other side of the square erupted in a commotion, and quick as a flash a skinny man took off running straight at Phineas.
A pair of tired looking sailors groaned behind Phineas and his kidnappers, and pushed past them to intercept the wildly running man. They dragged him by the armpits backwards towards the center of the plaza, to stand in front of the fellow in the baby seat, whirling him roughly around to face the little red man.
“Nat Hopkins,” the little man said loud enough for all to hear, “do ye have te five pounds ye owes me?” The red man had a thick, Irish accent.
The man, Phineas figured it was Hopkins, looked down at the ground and squirmed between the two men.
“Red, I swear I can…
“SILENCE,” the little man roared. In a calmer voice he repeated, “Do ye have te five pounds ye owes me?”
Hopkins hung his head down sadly, and slowly shook it from side to side. The little red man addressed the crowd.
“Be it known tat Nat Hopkins has stated he cannot pay te debt he owes me. Ye sawr for yourselves he freely admits it! To the tavern wit him!”
“No!” Hopkins screamed. “Not the tavern! Please, I’ll come up with it!”
The little red man nodded to the purple fellow and the two sailors, gesturing with his chin towards a small alleyway between two buildings. The sailors nodded in response and dragged Hopkins backwards, kicking and fighting and pleading, out of the square and down the alley. They were gone for a couple of moments, but the little red man waited calmly, bouncing one foot in the air like a little kid. The crowd waited in a nervous silence.
Phineas slowly turned his head to see if his kidnappers were watching him. Green Teeth’s fingers still dug firmly into his shoulder, but if he could just drop to his knees and maybe roll away or something. He tensed his legs to get ready to drop. The fingers tightened again. He sighed and relaxed his legs. That was out.
He watched as the two sailors and the man in purple returned to take their places next to the baby chair. Nat Hopkins was not with them. The little man looked at the crowd.
“Be it known tat nobody…NOBODY…crosses Red Suarez!”
The crowd murmured in a sort of agreement. Red Suarez eyed them with his beady little blue eyes. He looked right at Phineas, who dropped his own eyes, fearful that they would drag him off to the tavern like that Nat Hopkins.
“Guillermo Rodriquez!” Suarez roared out.
A short, squat man dressed in peasant’s clothing separated himself from the crowd and approached the knot of sailors. They marched him up to the baby chair.
Suarez spoke to him rapidly in fluent Spanish, and Rodriguez nodded frequently. With a broad grin, Suarez motioned to the giant, who produced a small leather sack from one of the pockets of his nasty, too-small clothes. Suarez opened it, shook out some gold coins, put the coins back in the sack and tossed it to Rodriguez.
“Muchas gracias, señor,” Rodriguez cried, and then bowed and backed away from Suarez. Suarez watched him go with a triumphant leer.
He scanned the crowd as it parted to make room for Rodriquez. He stopped suddenly to stare at one fellow, a tall, thin, elegantly dressed man of middle age, with a fine dark complexion, which could have been either the skin of the natives hereabouts or a seaman’s tan. The gentleman wore a fine lace collar above a beige doublet. His brown trousers were neatly tucked into tall sailor’s boots. A long rapier hung at his hip.
“Maldonado,” Suarez whispered loudly and pointed at the elegant man.
The giant looked at him too, and then turned back to Suarez and nodded urgently.
“Alejandro Diaz!” Suarez roared out again.
The elegant man approached Suarez’s baby chair throne. He walked smoothly and easily. Phineas tried to remember where he’d heard that name before – someone had said it aboard the ship.
“Ah, buenos dias, Capitano,” Suarez said, loud enough for everyone to hear, “Ye may consider myself a wee bit surprised to find ye here.”
“Yet here I am, Excellency,” Diaz bowed slightly and clicked his heels together.
“Be it known,” Suarez bellowed to the crowd, “tat Red Suarez knows EVERYTING about te Caribbean Sea and te people who moves about it! Tere’s not an anchor what drops tat Red Suarez don’t know who’s dropping it and whence tey’re bound. Even His Most Catolic Majesty don’t keep nutting from Red Suarez!”
He turned back to Diaz, who had a slightly pained look on his face. Phineas watched him carefully, trying to remember who had said this man’s name.
“So,” Suarez continued in his too loud voice, “what brings te likes of you down here to Port Royal? I tought you were playin’ wit’ yer fireworks up tere in Tatagua.”
“Oh, Your Excellency knows… supplies.”
“Could it be tat your San Cristobal barely escaped a British man o’war?”
That was it. He was on the ship that was taking the princess to Cadiz, and had rather kidnapped her. He was the man she met in the stable. She had said they returned to Port Royal to fix their ship.
“We gave as good as we were given,” Diaz replied calmly.
“I myself espied a jury-rigged mizzen mast on your barky,” Suarez said with a malicious sneer.
“As I say, Excellency, we seek supplies,” Diaz answered evenly. If he was getting angry, it didn’t show.
Suarez suddenly stood up in his baby chair and pointed a finger at Diaz.
“You are lying to me, Alejandro Diaz. I can’t proves it, but I sees it plain as ye be standing before me. I knows what it is brings ye here, dost understand? Ye will nay find it but tru me. Dost understand? Tru me! Attempt it on yer own and ye’ll be dancin’ for me, Capitano. Ye may rely upon tat!”
Diaz bowed deeply and backed away from the baby chair. His face had darkened in color. Phineas watched him as he merged with and then disappeared into the crowd.
Suarez remained standing in the chair and looked nastily at the assembled townspeople.
“Be it known tat Red Suarez don’t brook nobody lyin’ to him! Liars will be taught to dance from te gibbet!”
“Ah, Señor Suarez!” the mossy-toothed pirate next to Phineas bellowed. He shoved Phineas’ shoulder, forcing him to stumble a little in front of the procession.
“We bro’ you a little fishy!” Both the men laughed darkly at this.
“Well, lads, tats mighty toughty of ye,” the little man said. “Let’s us have a look at our wee little fish, here.”
The two sailors shoved Phineas out into the square. They held his arms tightly behind him, so there was no chance of his breaking free. His heart beat as if it would burst from his chest, and he squirmed in fear. He did not want to look that awful little red man in the face.
“Where did ye get him from?” Suarez asked.
“He fall off a ship in the harbor,” the man with the knife said.
“What ship would tat be, ten?
“She is a little ship, capitan, called the Kathryn B,” the bearded one said.
“Kateryn B,” Suarez said thoughtfully. “Hmmm. Can’t say as I know her. But I will. Ye can lay to tat.”
“We thinkin’ maybe you cou’ sell him!” the Green Teeth said.
Phineas instinctively backed away from Suarez as the evil little man looked at him more carefully. The pirate’s gaze was harsh, analytical, and utterly terrifying. Phineas felt the roil of seasickness move in his belly. His knees nearly buckled beneath him. Green Teeth caught him by the armpits.
“Take him to te tavern,” he said. “We’ll see what it is we’ve got here.”
“To the tavern, señor. Gracias,” the bearded sailor said.
Green Teeth grabbed Phineas by the shoulder and quickly wrapped the blanket tightly around him once more.
Phineas groaned through the cloth ball, but there was nothing he could do. He was lifted off the floor again, and flopped over somebody’s shoulder.
He was so tired, and so scared, all he could do was wait inside the blanket to see what happened next.
The pirate that carried him jostled him through the crowd, bumping and swaying as he walked. He heard more Spanish voices, some of them women.
He felt a sharp knock on the side of his head, and the noises around him suddenly changed. The air became even hotter and stuffier. It seemed as if they had taken him into a building, one that smelled of alcohol and tobacco smoke and unwashed people. A great many voices filled this room, laughing and yelling at one another playfully. Most of them spoke in Spanish, too, but there were a few words of English mixed in. The sounds dropped behind him, and the pirate grunted, and his steps became rough and jerky. After another rough bump the noises fell quite away.
The sailor finally lifted Phineas off his shoulders and flopped him down roughly in a chair. A pair of hands grabbed him by the upper arms and pulled him to his feet – he could hardly stand up – and jerked the blanket off of him. Green Teeth untied the bandana. Phineas pulled the rotten old rag out of his mouth.
“Your superiors shall hear about this,” he spat harshly. It was the very first thing that popped into his head. After having said it, however, he realized it wasn’t as impressive as he had thought it would be.
“Eh, señor…” Green Teeth began, but was interrupted when the door banged open and Red Suarez sauntered in.