“Mercedes,” said Cooke. “What about ‘stay in the cabin so you won’t be shot at or taken advantage of by desperate men’ was unclear to you?”

“I heard shouting,” said Mercedes. “I thought I could help.”

“Yes, for God’s sake, help us!” cried the merchantman’s captain.

Cooke sighed, drew his flintlock, and shot the captain through the chest. Before he’d had time to crumple to the ground, he was over the gunwhales and into the sea.

“I told him if the next thing out of his mouth wasn’t a list of valuables that we’d promote his first mate,” said Cooke. “And I meant it.”

“Th-there’s a strongbox under the decks of the great cabin!” cried the mate in a panic. “There’s not much there, but it’s all we have!”

“Excellent,” said Cooke. “When you get into port, be sure to tell them how bravely you resisted us and maybe the promotion will stick.” Turning to Mercades, he added: “Was that the sort of aid you intended to offer?”

She could only mouth wordless sentiments, pale as the white shirt she was wearing.

“I warned you to stay in the cabin,” said Cooke. “And I warned you that this jolly crew wasn’t always merry. Let that be a lesson for you to take me at my word.”

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