The captain’s red coat vanished between cargo boxes and the shifting shoulders of sailors. Arlo hopped down from the rail and slapped Nick on the shoulder. “It’s now or never.”
Nic stowed the last of the rope he coiled. “Let’s go.”
They strolled down the quarter deck hands in their pockets.
“You two have trouble waltzing down your noses,” Gunny Whedon looked up from supervising the swabs who’d earned the captain’s displeasure. “So eager to join these swabs?”
“We’re helping the captain out.” Arlo slipped his copy of the captain’s key off his ring.
“Secrets weigh a man down, Gunny.” Nick bounced on his toes and shot the gunner a grin. “We’re just going to lighten his load.”
“You’re going to kiss the captain’s daughter.” Whedon shook his head.
“You aren’t going to stop us?” Arlo cracked open the door to the captain’s cabin and paused for the answer.
“If you’re going to be daft enough to invade the captain’s privacy I’m not going to stop you. Makes it more likely we’ll have better mates before long.” Whedon’s boot scuffed a bucket of water toward a swab who’d let it get away from him. “Either do it or don’t. I’m curious how much rope it will take to hang you.”
Arlo slipped into the captain’s cabin. Nick slipped in behind him. His head popped back out. “Aw, admit you’d miss us, Gunny.”
Whedon scowled. “Get on with you.” Nick got.
It was strange to be in the captain’s cabin without the captain. The room shrank. The furniture seemed over large and everything seemed fragile. Arlo and Nico hardly dared to breathe, lest they send the air current wrong and send the sturdy tankards and boxes crashing to the ground. Then they breathed out and the cabin was just a cabin again.
They moved to the sea chest tucked under the right side of the captain’s bunk. Arlo dragged it out and Nick dropped to examine the lock. Arlo sat on the edge of the bunk and kept his ears peeled for inquisitive sailors. Nick slipped a hand into his boot and withdrew his pouch of lock picks. He lay the leather on the floor and considered each slim bit of metal with the same gravity he considered what supplies deserved his hard earned coin.
“If you take all day, the captain will catch us.” Arlo propped his chin on his hands and studied the unremarkable sea chest.
“We’re committing a minor act of mutiny. It deserves respect.” Nick chose a twisted pick and gently snicked it into the lock. He waited, ear cocked toward the lock for a heartbeat, before slowly rotating the pick. He nodded, withdrew the pick, and chose another.
“What do you suppose is in it? I’m still betting on a collection of shrunken heads. Perhaps the never worn wedding dress of a love who died while he was at sea, he seems that kind of old fashioned.” Arlo marveled that anyone had stolen Nick away from a life of burglary, then again, the captain was a fair fascinating man.
“Not a wedding dress. A secret contract with a notorious pirate or rival country. Maybe a cursed diamond. The way he guards this chest, you would think the contents could kill the hapless crewman who opened it.” Nick closed one eye as the current pick made a crackling sound in the lock.
“Why are we doing this if you think it would injure us?”
Nick grunted as the pick finally clicked properly and the lock snicked open. “Because we’re prepared and whatever is in this chest, we deserve to know about it. We’ll stick by the captain even if he has some horrible dark secret.”
Arlo knelt down next to Nick and together they flipped open the lid of the sea chest.
They looked at each other in baffled silence. Arlo reached in and removed the topmost article in the chest. “The Brigand’s Bride?” he read.
“The Daring Adventures of Black Hearted Bill, Plundering Hearts, Crowns and Cutlasses…” Nick stared at the wealth of battered paper backs. “Romances and penny dreadfuls?” His voice rose in shock. Then he started laughing.
Arlo flipped through a few pages of The Brigand’s Bride then joined Nick in laughter.
“Find it funny, do you?”
Nick and Arlo jumped like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Captain Atticus Grimaldi closed the door and bolted it behind him before turning an iron glare on his errant mate and quartermaster. Both men ducked their heads. Unfortunately this meant they looked straight back at the cover of The Brigand’s Bride and returned to helpless laughter.
The captain crossed the space in a few quick strides. Arlo held up the book, “Well, we know now, Captain.”
Captain Grimaldi glanced down at him. “And I suppose the two of you are planning to give me hell for my taste in literature.”
“Of course,” Nick admitted, “I mean, it’s so-”
“You probably want to hold that opinion, Quartermaster Culver,” the captain interrupted calmly. Nick, like anyone, knew that a proper title was just as bad as a full name to a child. He shut up and exchanged a glance with Arlo.
“Well, it sounds like you’ve already decided what to do with us, Captain.” Arlo said and stood. He would take his punishment standing like a man, by thunder. Nick rose as well. Arlo went to toss the book into the chest, but the captain’s hand stopped him.
“I have,” Captain Grimaldi said and a dangerous gleam came into his eye. The same gleam he got when he outmaneuvered an enemy vessel. “You two are going to read them.”
He grinned at the look of non-comprehension that crossed the faces of the two snoops. “Since you intend to mock my taste, we’ll see what you think after you’ve read a few.”
The dawning horror of comprehension gave Grimaldi a grim satisfaction. “You can start with the one in hand, Arlo.” He reached into the chest and removed Crowns and Cutlasses. “I think this will suit you, Nick.” He handed his quartermaster the book. “Now sit and read.”
For himself, he plucked out a battered copy of Inara and the Rogue and settled into his chair. Arlo and Nick looked at the books, looked at each other, and decided that they had been fools to think they could get away with crossing their captain.