Home > Shot Across the Bow (Deep Six #5)

Shot Across the Bow (Deep Six #5)
Author: Julie Ann Walker

 


Prologue

 

      July 16th, 1624...

 

 

    Death is such an indignity.

    Bartolome Vargas had always thought so. Thought the howls of pain and the flash of fear in formerly courageous eyes were some of life’s greatest injustices. Yet nothing had prepared Spain’s most famous sea captain for the horror of the illness that had fallen over the surviving members of his crew.

    Granted, none of them had fared well in the long weeks since the Santa Cristina succumbed to the early season hurricane. The small island upon which they had been marooned afforded them little in the way of sustenance, forcing them to survive solely on the rainwater they collected in the storage barrels washed ashore from the wreck and what fish and crustaceans they could harvest from the sea. But barring injury, infection, or battle with their enemies, they had survived.

    ’Til this very morn...

    The keening cry of the ship’s surgeon—a man who had served under Bartolome for nigh on fifteen years—had wrenched Bartolome from a fitful sleep. In the twilight of dawn, he had spied the good doctor squatted at the edge of their squalid, slapdash campsite. The man had shaken with the effort to expel the demon inside him, his face mottled red, his wildly rolling eyes seemingly sunk deep into his skull.

    Within five hours, the surgeon had succumbed, his last minutes plagued by convulsive spasms and a thirst no amount of water could quench. In that short amount of time from sunrise until the man’s death, three more of Bartolome’s brave crew had begun to show signs of the mysterious ailment.

    He had sent a handful of his healthiest sailors to the beach to dig a grave for the surgeon, but he feared there would be more than one hole in the sand before the day’s end.

    “’Tis your fault we are dying here and not safe in Havana!” Alvaro yelled from his bedroll at the edge of the clearing.

   The young helmsman had been growing more mutinous by the day.

   Were they still aboard the Santa Cristina, Bartolome would have long since had the headstrong sailor keelhauled for insubordination. But too many of his men had already been lost, and those that were left were suffering. The thought of meting out additional misery, even to one as defiant as Alvaro, did not sit well with Bartolome’s conscience.

    “If you had not fired and scuttled that French ketch,” Alvaro continued, “we would all be—”

    “Dead!” Bartolome bellowed, feeling his face grow hot. He might not have the stomach to punish Alvaro for the sharpness of his tongue, but neither would he stand idly by while the youth callously sliced him with it. “We would all be dead by the hands of our enemies. And instead of the treasure remaining safe in her watery tomb, ’twould be in the hands of the British or the French or those bastardly Dutch!”

    “Hold your tongue, Alvaro,” Rosario, Bartolome’s most trusted second-in-command, came to stand next to him as he surveyed those who were sick and those who eyed askance the sick and kept their distance lest they too fall ill. “’Tis not the capitán’s fault. We are cursed. We have been cursed since the day our good King Philip set us on this course.”

    Is that true? Bartolome wondered. Are we cursed?

    He had no time to ponder the answer before one of the afflicted, their cooper, lurched over to a water barrel and plunged his face into the tepid liquid, sucking in great gulps. The sick man came up with water sluicing down his shoulders. His voice was reed-thin when he wailed, “The thirst! It claws at me!”

    A second later, the man grabbed his stomach and retched onto the sand at his feet. Like the surgeon, the flesh had hollowed over the cooper’s cheeks and eyes. The skin on the backs of his hands was wrinkled like parchment, making him appear far older than his twenty-seven years.

    Rosario crossed himself and whispered a desperate prayer.

    In weeks past, Bartolome may have joined his midshipman in a plea to the Almighty. Of late, however, he had begun to lose faith that god cared one whit about any of them.

    After watching the cooper crawl back to his bedroll and curl into a miserable ball, Bartolome closed his nose to the foul stench of illness and unwashed bodies, and made his way over to the afflicted man. He was determined to offer any aid he could.

    After kneeling beside the cooper, however, he knew his ministrations would be for naught. The dark specter of Death was there in the cooper’s eyes. ’Twould not be long now before the man’s soul left his body to fly into the mystery of the afterlife.

    Poor bastard, Bartolome thought helplessly.

    He had been so certain if they were patient, if they remained stalwart and true to their cause, a Spanish ship would happen upon them. He had been convinced that with a prize as colossal as the one the Santa Cristina had carried in her big belly, their good king would have every ship in the Spanish Navy scouring the waters of the Caribbean, looking for her remains.

    Yet...the days had stretched into weeks and the weeks had stretched into months. Not once from their various makeshift crow’s nests built around the island had they spied a vessel flying the colors of home. Not once had their searching eyes detected even a glimmer of salvation.

    ’Twas as if their island had been enchanted by some terrible sea witch’s spell, visible only to their enemies.

    Mayhap Rosario is right, Bartolome mused miserably. Mayhap we are all doomed to die on this sorry spit of mangrove forest and sand.

    But if their fate was to be forever entombed on the island, he took comfort in knowing the treasure remained hidden in its new home. Remained safe and secure from the light of day and the beady, covetous eyes of their numerous adversaries.

    ’Til a true son of Spain comes to claim it...

 

 

Chapter 1

 

      Present Day

   8:45 PM...

 

 

    Tactical awareness...

    It meant knowing all the exits in the bar. Having a close approximation of how many people were inside making merry. And recognizing the two guys in the corner drinking whiskey and wearing ten-gallon cowboy hats carried concealed weapons in calf holsters under their Wranglers—Texans, ya gotta love ’em.

    For Spiro “Romeo” Delgado, tactical awareness also meant knowing the exact moment Mia Ennis walked into the place.

    The hairs on his arms stood up. His stomach balled into a tight fist. And the oxygen in the room was reduced by half—which was something considering Schooner Warf Bar was open air along three whole sides.

    These physical symptoms caused by her mere presence were nothing new. He’d been suffering from them ever since she’d been hired on to oversee the excavation he and his former SEAL Team members and current Deep Six Salvage partners were doing on the legendary Santa Cristina.

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