On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers

Book: On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers Read Free Book Online
Authors: Tim Powers
even faster—soon enough you’ll be so hungry for me you won’t be able to take a deep breath.
    Friend came blundering into the fireside crowd just as Davies entered it from the beach side. The pirate chief was grinning confidently, and Friend rolled his eyes in exasperation. Oh, spare us the brave show, captain, thought the fat physician; you’re in no danger from anyone here…unless you really annoy
me
with your gallant
posturing
.
    â€œAh, here’s our captain!” cried one of the pirates, a stocky red-haired man with a broad, freckled, smiling face; and though some of the men in the crowd were frowning angrily, Friend watched this smiling man, for he sensed that it was he who posed the threat. “Phil,” the man said earnestly, “some of the lads here were wonderin’ exactly what action we’ve worked so hard outfitting the
Carmichael
for, and how much profit we stand to take from it compared to what sorts of perils there be waitin’. I tried to answer ’em in general, but they want
specific
answers.”
    Davies laughed. “I’d have thought they’d all know better than to go to
you
for
specifics,
Venner,” he said easily—though to Friend the apprehension behind the unconcerned pose was obvious.
    Friend saw the new recruit—Elizabeth’s friend, what was his name? Shandy, that was it—scuffling his way through the crowdbehind Davies, and for a moment the physician considered engineering things so that the interfering puppeteer would be killed… or, better, maimed, rendered simple-minded by a blow to the head…but he regretfully decided that it would be difficult enough to restrain a crowd this big and wild from mutiny, without trying to get them to swat his personal fly at the same time.
    He returned his attention to Venner, whose face, despite the smile, shone with sweat in the firelight. “That’s what I told ’em, cap’n,” he said, and for a moment the falsity of his smile must have been obvious to everyone present, “but several have said they plain won’t sail if we be goin’ to that damned place on the Florida coast where Thatch got infested by ghosts.”
    Davies shrugged. “Any of ’em who be not satisfied with my promise to make ’em rich, or who doubt my word on that, can see me privately to settle it. And any that want to desert in mid-endeavor know the prescribed penalties. Do you fit into either of those groups, Venner?”
    Friend, peering in from the periphery, whispered and held up his hand.
    Venner tried to reply, but produced only a choked grunt. Should I have him provoke his own death, Friend wondered, or save him? Better let him live—there
is
real fear and anger in this crowd, and I don’t want it stirred to a blaze. He whispered and gestured again, and Venner suddenly hunched forward and vomited onto the sand. The people near him drew away, and coarse laughter broke the tension.
    Playing to the audience, Davies said, “I don’t call that a responsive answer.”
    Friend’s fat fingers danced in the air, and Venner straightened and said, loudly but haltingly, “No…Phil. I…trust you. I…
what’s happening here? These aren’t my
…I was just drunk, and wanted to…stir up a bit of trouble. All these lads…know you’ve got their best…
damn me!
…interests at heart.”
    Davies raised his eyebrows in surprise, then frowned suspiciously and peered around among the crowd; but Venner’s words had been convincing enough for one pirate, who clumped up and punched the would-be mutineer in the face.
    â€œTreacherous pig,” the pirate muttered as Venner sat down in the sand, blood spilling from his nose. The man turned to Davies. “Your word sooner’n his, anytime, cap’n.”
    Davies smiled. “Try not to forget, Tom,” he said mildly.
    Out at the edge of the crowd,

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