Master of Paradise
reaching over to take the smoking pipe. He shrugged
philosophically. “What can I say? She’s new and inexperienced. But
no matter—she’ll learn. By the end of the night, we’ll all have had
her, and she’ll be better acquainted with her duties, eh?”
    The men laughed as the African man squeezed
the bound woman’s breasts and increased his thrusts as she shrieked
in fear and pain.
    “God, I love these islands,” Hastings sighed,
settling himself down on the grass. He leaned back on his elbows as
a slave girl ran to retrieve the pipe and brought it to his lips.
Letting her hold it for him, he took a puff and reached between her
legs, fingering her as he exhaled and watched her eyes. She lowered
them, settling back to allow him what liberties he chose.
    “If the Buxton bill passes,” cautioned Delon,
“you won’t love them so well. There will be no more debauching for
us, mon ami. ”
    “It won’t pass. I have powerful friends and
powerful men under my control who’ll make sure it doesn’t
pass.”
    “A powerful father, more like.”
    “In any case,” Hastings pointed out, “they
banished trading long ago and that hasn’t stopped us, has it?”
    “ Oui, but if they ban the ownership of
slaves, what are we going to do? Hide them? ”
    “It’s that abominable corsair we must be
concerned with at the moment,” said Montand. “You remember when he
commandeered that shipment of slaves last month and set them all
loose? Most of them have joined his ranks, I hear. It’s said they
plan to attack every slaver who comes this way and free its cargo.
Not only is he destroying our business, but all the attention he
receives in England aids Buxton and his reformers. One way or
another, we must wipe this menace off the face of the earth. And
soon.”
    “Don’t you think I know that?” Hastings
snapped. “We’re doing everything we can. We know he’s in the
Amirantes, but there are ten islands in the group, all of them
surrounded by coral reefs that will rip apart any ship that doesn’t
know the waters intimately. It’s a bloody graveyard of shipwrecks.
That’s why Soro hides out there. He knows those waters, where no
one else does.”
    “Surely we can find a pilot capable enough
to—”
    “You might find someone who knows a passage
to one or the other of the islands. But only Soro himself knows
them all.”
    “So, unless we know the island for which we
search, and can find someone willing to take us there—”
    “It would be suicide,” Hastings agreed.
“There is one possibility, of course. We’re just going to have to
attack every island till we have him. Attack till we find and
destroy the Portuguese bastard.”
    “That’s not a bad idea.”
    “I shall need financial backing,
naturally.”
    “But of course.”
    “We’ll do it, then. We shall start next week.
We’ll gather a fleet, find as many pilots as we can who know pieces
of these waters, attack every last bloody island until we find
Soro, and kill him and everyone who sails with him. That should
take care of the problem.”
    “What about your brother?” Delon asked
pointedly.
    Hastings met his gaze and snapped, “He’s not
my brother. And I don’t care a fig what happens to him.”
    “Then we’re agreed.”
    “And while Soro is being blown to bits,”
Hastings continued, “I shall sail to Zanzibar the first of the
month and meet with the sultan.”
    “Isn’t that dangerous at such a time?”
    “If I don’t go now, I shall be forced to wait
another month for the next ship. Believe me, Soro will have his
hands too full in the Amirantes to pose any threat to me. Now,”
Hastings added, rising to his feet, “I should like to forget this
beastly business and have a go at this unwilling slave myself. See
if she hasn’t learned her lesson.”
    He bent to retrieve a whip, which he curled
around his hand. Then he stepped into the eerie glow of the fire,
took the black man’s shoulder in his hand, and heaved him off

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