The door to the Captain's cabin was open. Several pirates were gumming with occasional teeth at Thomas. Even Willy had stopped circling the mast, and stood with the crate on his back, watching. The ship creaked as she crested a wave, and something small fell off and splashed into the water on the starboard side.
"Misterr Blue," came the voice from the cabin, "if I step out of this cabin to find ye, ye're bait."
The pirates gummed wildly. Clutching the ledger, Thomas hurried across the deck to the cabin. He stumbled across a coil of rope, almost pitching into Willy. Looking up, he saw a smile spread across Willy's great slab of a face. The sun glinted off his teeth. They had points.
"I didn't choose Death, I didn't choose Death" Thomas recited under his breath as he passed Willy and scurried into the Captain's cabin. It was dark inside, but the room had a large table in the center around which stood several figures, backlighted by the windows at the stern of the ship. Thomas squinted.
"Close the doorr," the voice said, and Thomas hurried to comply. The back of the door had a head hung on it.
"That one chose Death," the coarse-filed voice said. "Har-har-harr-harrr." There was a general chorus of rough laughter as Thomas, feeling rather like a sheet that has finished drying and just been shaken out, turned back around.
There were five men standing around the table. Shank was one of them, his greasy blonde hair tied behind his head, and his wire-rimmed glasses glinting in the cabin's horizontal slashes of light. Next to him was a bald man, heavily muscled and covered in tattoos. His arms and head were a mass of blue and black swirls, as though he had been attacked by a swarm of opium-crazed calligraphers.
Across the table from Shank and the tatooed man were a pair of men of similar height who could not have taken a more opposite approach to decor and, it appeared, hygiene. The one farther behind the table was in a blue jacket that even in the dim light shone like silk; around his neck was a tremendous white lace ruffle, and his hair was pulled up atop his head in a style Thomas had only seen during his short stint as a gardener for Governor Gyrlie.
The man next to him had several small moths in his wildly disheveled hair, and his shirt was even worse. It appeared to be only held together by the many stains that decorated it. In contrast to the dandy, who had fixed Thomas with a cold and appraising eye, the tattered man appeared not to have noticed him; his eyes wandered gently around the room, following no obvious pattern.
And directly across from Thomas was a man who could only have been the Captain. Thomas' first impression was that the Captain had the most impressive beard he had ever seen. It was Thomas' second impression, too - that's how large the beard was. It reached from the man's nose to his belt, and covered the bulk of his torso in a breastplate of dense black hair. It was a beard that ruled over other beards, and ate them.
Then Thomas realized how short the Captain was. He had just agreed with his subconscious that he would absolutely, totally ignore this fact, when the Captain addressed him.
"Ye'll be Tom Blood, then," came the voice from somewhere inside the imposing bulk of beard. Despite the Captain's standing at least a foot shorter than Thomas ("Shut up! Are you trying to get us killed?" cried his subconscious), the voice still gave Thomas the willies. Not least because it could give Thomas to Willy. But it also was the sort of voice that one expected to be followed by screams and cries for mercy. It was the kind of voice that had been created to prove that really, really bad things were not always preceeded by loud noises.
Thomas swallowed. "Er, it's Thomas Blue, sir."
There was a sound very much like "THUNK", and Thomas noticed that something was cutting his cheek. The cabin was silent, all the men save one (who was now slowly but very thoughtfully picking his nose) looking at Thomas. Thomas carefully leaned his head left, and looked. Sure enough, a foot-long dagger was embedded in the head on the door. Thomas felt something wet on his cheek.
"That wasn't a question, Misterr Blood," said the Captain. "I can't have the men wonderin' about yerr stupid last name. So I've changed it forr ye." The Captain was staring at him. Thomas realized he hadn't seen the Captain blink since he had entered the room. His eyes were so black that the pupil couldn't be discerned from the iris. It was like looking into a well.
Thomas resisted the urge to touch his cut. It had begun to sting.
"Um, thank you, sir?"
"Yerr welcome. Shank tells me that ye've agreed te be ourr new purrserr."
"Um, yes, sir?"
"Good. I like the Leoparr's accounts to be current." His eyes flickered to Shank, who flinched. "And legible." He looked back at Thomas. "Yerr bunk is with the officerrs." Gesturing at the tattooed man, he said "This is Misterr Trouble, the gunnerr. Shank and Willy ye know already. This," he said, indicating the man in the blue jacket, "is Mr. Tenia, ourr bosun. And that is Jack Candy, the carrpenterr."
At the top, the beard split, as the Captain grinned a manic grin.
"He's. Totally. In. Sane."
Thomas' mouth was open, but it made no sound. What could you say? Even "Ah." seemed somehow too committal. The Captain kept grinning at him.
Happily, Tenia came to his rescue. Sort of.
"Wehl, Meestair Bloahd, Ah 'ope you last longair zan ze last pur-sair we 'ad. Meestair Wee-lay was bozaired by hees snor-ing, and pulled hees tongue out of hees, how you say, abruti?"
"I, ah, I don't snore."
"Ah 'ope not."
Thomas swallowed again, and found some courage cowering in some little corner of his stomach. "Well, ah, it's a pleas-, a pleas-, ah, nice to meet you all."
"Yarr," said Trouble, and nodded at him, not unkindly. Tenia sniffed. Jack Candy sucked a finger, and began to draw on his shirt.
"Well," said the Captain, "Now that we'rre all mates, let's get to business. Tom, me lad, you've joined up at just the right time." He gestured at the dozen charts unrolled on the table. His eyes glinted.
"We'rre going treasurre hunting."
Columns by Sun Ra