A Pirate's Tale
The Robertson Heritage, Part VIII
04/01/2008 - Despite the crew's efforts to maintain their masquerade, Duke understood that he and Matthew were not welcome aboard this new ship. He knew the truth. They were prisoners. More than that, they were expendable. Duke felt that he and Matthew were little more than sitting ducks. If the captain truly decided to take them out, there would be nowhere to run. It was only a matter of time.
It was midnight, but Duke was wide awake in the little cabin the crew had assigned him, sitting at the edge of his cot. If only there was some way for him to talk to Matthew...but the crew never gave them a chance. They were never alone together to form any kind of plan. Even though they were told otherwise, the truth was, they were being guarded. The captain didn't want to risk anything with Duke and Matthew.
Duke looked sideways at his cabin mate. The man appeared to be asleep, but Duke knew he should be cautious, nonetheless. It's hard to imagine sleeping one wink for the remainder of this voyage, with one of them in my room, Duke thought. That would be too vulnerable a position. I'll just have to keep watch.
On the other hand, this was the most alone Duke had been since they boarded the new ship, The Bainbridge, and he decided to seize his opportunity to explore. He took another look at the crew member opposite him to be sure he was really asleep. Duke then eased himself up off his cot, so as to avoid creaking springs and crept over to the dresser. He slid open the first drawer and saw nothing of interest. He continued opening drawers in succession until something caught his eye -- a little box with a keyhole. Duke looked around for the key, but didn't readily spot it. Glancing over his shoulder at his roommate, he slid the box under his shirt and made his way back to his cot. In order to mask his actions as much as possible he sat on the floor facing away from his sleeping cabin mate.
There must be something he could use to pick the lock, but he had to do it carefully. Duke suspected the contents of the box to be important, whatever they were. He wanted to be able to put it back where he found it – lock intact!
Duke no longer had his knife or anything from the trip on which he and Matthew had embarked, save the clothes on his back. It had all been left on the island or lost in the storm. There were no weapons, and the room he occupied appeared almost "baby-proof". There was nothing of any kind that Duke could imagine using for a tool or weapon – and he knew that was no mistake.
Then, Duke had a stroke of genious! If only he could accomplish it without making any noise. Keeping an ever-watchful eye on his roommate, Duke pulled one of the buttons from his own shirt. If he wakes up now, I'm done for! Duke said to himself as he crawled over to the chest of drawers and pulled the now-empty drawer open. Turning the button sideways to fit in the little groove of the screw that held the drawer-pull in place, Duke turned it firmly. It was hard because he had to work left-handed and Duke wasn't a "lefty". His right hand was still practically nonfunctional because of the pain and swelling, but within minutes, he had managed to remove the screw. Duke tried to catch the drawer-pull with his right hand before it fell to the wooden floor, but he missed and bumped his hand against the dresser. It was all Duke could do to keep from crying out, but he bit his lip and winced as the metal drawer-pull landed with a bang that he was sure would awaken the crewman. Cringing, he glanced over, but the man didn't even stir. With a little sigh of relief, he retrieved the handle, shut the drawer most of the way, leaving just enough space for his fingers to pull it open when he was finished, and crawled back to the box on the ground by his cot. Without a moment's hesitation, he began to pick at the lock with the screw, glancing periodically over his shoulder at the other bed. Whoever this man was, he slept like a rock!
Duke was adept at picking locks, from years of experience, and it was only a matter of moments before he had the box open. Inside were a bunch of papers. Duke couldn't wait to dig in, but he knew he'd better return the drawer-pull to it's proper place before proceeding.
The drawer-pull was only halfway restored, when the man in the other cot stirred. Since the screw was partway in, it held the drawer-pull in place, but not very securely. Without a second thought, Duke shut the drawer and dashed back to his bed, pushing the box under the cot, then assuming a position of sleep. It was just dark enough in the room that he suspected the man wouldn't see the hidden box. He only hoped the drawer-pull wouldn't fall off. He could hardly breath as he lay there. His body was still, but his heart thumped at an alarming rate as the man got up and came over beside Duke's cot. Duke could almost feel the man's eyes boring into him. Finally, he could stand it no longer. He stirred and rolled over, acting as if he had just awakened.
Feigning surprise, he looked up into the crewmember's face and whispered, "Don't you know it's past midnight? What are you doing up?"
The man didn't budge. He just stared, making Duke even more uncomfortable. Then, from behind his back, he raised a knife. Though it was hard to maintain control, Duke leapt up and punched the man in one smooth motion, rendering him unconscious. He took the knife from the man's hand and shoved it into his own belt.
Quietly he ran out the door. He had to get Matthew out of his cabin before one of the other crewmembers made the same attempt on him! Duke didn't know if Matthew would be asleep or not, but he couldn't take the risk of assumption. He had to be certain. He hoped he could find the right cabin in the dark.
Suddenly a voice behind him spoke causing Duke to jump and turn to face the stranger. It was one of the crewmembers, poised to attack. "What are you doing?" he inquired threateningly.
Quickly, Duke assumed an expression of discomfort and grabbed his stomach dramatically. "I'm seasick! I just needed some air!"
The man looked at Duke skeptically and Duke could tell he needed further convincing. Duke ran to the railing and leaned over it as far as he could without falling. Duke hadn't been seasick for as long as he could remember. He was even more comfortable aboard a ship in tossing waves than he was on dry land because it was how he had grown up, but he put on as dramatic an act as he could and hoped it was dark enough that the man couldn't tell he was only pretending.
Unfortunately, the man didn't seem to buy Duke's act. He approached Duke from the back and reached toward Duke's belt. Suddenly Duke remembered the knife. His eyes widened in alarm as he realized the man had spotted it!
He turned away from the railing so the man couldn't seize the weapon. Duke knew he didn't have very many options, but the last thing he wanted to do was fight this man. He didn't want to let the crew know he was onto them. If he hurt or killed a crewmember, it would just cause the rest of them to take action and he couldn't expect to stand against them all – even with Matthew's help. His best option was to maintain the masquerade and pretend to be oblivious to the enemy's plan. He knew it was only a matter of time before his cabin mate woke up. He didn't know what he would do then...he was still thinking about it.
"What did you have back there?" the crewmember asked, even though he already knew.
Quietly Duke slipped the knife out of his belt and dropped it between the bars of the railing into the ocean. Panting as if he was still feeling sick Duke leaned against the railing, pretending to be weak and dizzy. "I don't know what you're talking about!" he said, wavering his voice, in his best imitation of some of the seasick people he had seen over the years.
Still not buying Duke's act, the guard grabbed Duke and turned him back around, pushing him up against the rail roughly, but Duke never stepped out of his character. "What are you doing?" he whimpered, still holding his stomach in the same manner as before.
When the guard saw there was no knife his expression changed. "I'm sorry, I must have been mistaken. I'll leave you to yourself."
Duke was amazed it had actually worked. He waited until the guard had rounded the corner and then continued running down the deck to the cabin he thought was Matthew's. Just as he had suspected, it was locked and this time he didn't have a screw with which to pick the lock.
He put his head in his hands and shifted uncomfortably trying to come up with a solution. Then the guard rounded the corner again. Duke leaned against Matthew's cabin door and put his hand to his forehead. "I think I'm actually sick!" he whined. "I'm getting a fever! Matthew knows a lot about medicine. Can I speak to him for just a moment?"
Duke could hear motion in the cabin and he wasn't sure if it was Matthew or if it was his cabin mate making the same attempt Duke's had on him.
He raised his voice, hoping to awaken Matthew if he was asleep. "PLEASE! I'm DESPERATE!!!" He threw himself dramatically to the ground. "I think I might DIE! I HAVE to talk to a doctor!!!" He pounded his fist into the ground, pretending to be in agony, just hoping he was loud enough to arouse Matthew inside. The door opened and Duke, who was still leaning against it, though he was on the ground, fell into the cabin and landed at Matthew's feet. Relieved to see his friend alive, Duke grabbed onto Matthew pantleg. He tried to communicate with his facial expressions that Matthew was in danger, but all he said was, "I think I'm DYING!" ephasizing the word "dying" on purpose, in hopes that Matthew would catch his drift. "I have a fever!" Duke reached up to grab Matthew's hand and pressed it to his forehead.
Matthew did understand what Duke was trying to convey and played along. "He's burning up!" Matthew exclaimed. "I know some about medicine! I have to help him! This man is dying! And you'd better just prepare yourself!" Matthew pointed intimidatingly at the guard. "My roommate has it too!"
Duke looked behind Matthew to discover Matthew's cabin mate on the floor.
"He just fainted!" Matthew went on, "I think we may have an epidemic on our hands! It's going to sweep through the crew like nothing you've ever seen!"
There was an obvious bump on Matthew's cabin mate's head that Duke hoped the guard couldn't see. It was clear to Duke that the man didn't have a fever, but had just tangled with Matthew!
"My cabin mate has it too!" Duke moaned. "I think he might be dead! He's on the floor!"
"Quarantine our two rooms!" Matthew exclaimed. "No one goes in or out of them except us and our roommates! I have to go get Duke's roommate and bring him here so I can treat them all!" Matthew looked urgently at the guard. "Will you help me?"
The guard shook his head emphatically. "Are you kidding? I'm not getting near these people!"
Matthew rolled his eyes and pushed past the guard. "Then I'll do it myself!"
Suddenly, the man with the dark eyes and dark hair who had greeted Matthew and Duke when they first came aboard approached. "What is all this commotion?" he exclaimed.
"General Bainbridge! It's an epidemic!" the guard exclaimed, frantically, pointing at Duke who emphasized the act all the more.
Matthew remained calm and matter-of-fact. "I have to go get Duke's roommate. He's dying of the fever. Keep our two rooms quarantined until this passes!"
General Bainbridge tried to approach Matthew who held out a hand in a cautioning manner. "Watch out, I may be carrying it too!"
"He knows medicine, General!" the guard said grabbing onto the general's sleeve. "Listen to him!"
"But I have to go in that room!" the general insisted pointing down the deck toward Duke's cabin.
Matthew whirled around and faced Bainbridge firmly. "Not unless you want to look like that!" he exclaimed, pointing at Duke who was still rolling on the floor moaning.
"He's not sick!" the general said suspiciously approaching Duke with an outstretched hand to feel for a fever.
Knowing he didn't really have a fever, Duke jumped up and looked around with frantic eyes pretending to hallucinate. "They're everywhere!" he shouted emphatically.
"Who is?!" Bainbridge snapped.
"The horsemen! They're....they're...everywhere..." with the last word Duke collapsed dramatically on the floor and lay motionless.
General Bainbridge's eyes widened. The guard crept up behind him and looked at Duke on the ground. "Is he...dead?"
Matthew squeezed between the guard and Duke, dragging Duke's roommate by the arms. "He may well be!" Matthew said indignantly, "Since I had to waste time getting this man without any help from you! I could've been treating him! Leave us alone!"
Matthew slammed the door on the general and guard.
Duke sat up. "We need to talk!"
...continued next month