He knocked back the last dregs of his grog, slamming the tankard on the table.
“You do keep winnin’, Cap’n,” replied First Mate Swein.
“That I do.”
“I heard talk of a game of roulette in these parts,” said Swein.
“Roulette is for wenches, too!”
“It makes a change from poker.”
“True. Garrh, alright then, where’s this roulette game?” asked the Captain.
“A bar near here. The Rotten Pegleg,” replied Swein.
“Then we go to the Rotten Pegleg!”
* * *
The Rotten Pegleg stood at the end of the quay. Candlelight fought its way through the grime caked on the windows, throwing misshapen shadows across the wharf. A peg leg infested with woodworm hung from a pole outside.
A toothless hag sat at the piano just inside the door. Her gnarled fingers laboured through a mournful dirge in the quiet bar. Four men loitered near a round table in the middle of the room. A fat man with a mop of hair the colour of dishwater stood behind the bar.
“Barkeep! I heard there was a game of roulette going on,” said Captain Scarlight.
“That there is. Yer in luck, me friend. We needed another player ‘fore we could get going,” said one of the men. He grinned, displaying a mouth of black teeth.
“Have ye ever played flintlock roulette?” asked another man. Twisted scars snaked up his face and under his bandanna, encrusted with sweat and filth.
“Can’t say I have, I’m a poker man, myself,” replied the Captain.
“I don’t like the sound of flintlock roulette,” said Swein.
“Ah, ye brought a wench with ye!” roared the black-toothed man. Swein blushed.
“This is my first mate,” said the Captain. “But I must have a drink before we play.”
The Captain walked over to the group. His gaze fell on a rusty cage in the shadows at the end of the bar. A beautiful blue parrot sat hunched on a perch, too large for the size of the cage. It looked at him with doleful eyes.
“What a beautiful bird!” said the Captain.
“He’s supposed to be my main attraction. I got ‘im from a passing gypsy. Little liar told me ‘e was telepathic, but I ain’t ‘eard anythin’ to prove it,” said the barkeeper.
“All the same, he’s gorgeous. What’s his name?” asked the Captain.
He stuck his finger through the bars and stroked the bird’s head. The parrot leaned nearer, enjoying the attention.
“Dunno, never bothered to give ‘im one. ‘E might end up in me dinner if ‘e doesn’t do something useful soon,” said the barkeeper. He handed Captain Scarlight a drink.
“I’ll take him,” said the Captain.
“Ah ‘e ain’t for sale,” said the barkeeper. “But if ye win yer game, I’ll reconsider.”
“Are ye ready, strange cap’n?” asked the pirate in the bandanna.
“That I am! So how do we play this?” asked the Captain.
“We put the deeds to our ships in the middle of the table. We get blindfolded, and walk around the table. The hag tells us when to stop. Ye sit down, pick up the flintlock in front of ye, and fire,” said the pirate.
“Only one of ‘em has shot in it. If ye get the shot, ye keep the ship of the man ye shot,” said the black-toothed pirate.
“That doesn’t sound like much fun,” said Captain Scarlight.
“Are ye yeller?” asked a third pirate.
“No, I just like my head where it is, thank you,” said the Captain.
The pirate in the bandanna pulled out a pistol. He aimed it at the Captain’s chest.
“Ye join in, or I shoot yer now.”
“I guess I’ll just have to play then, won’t I?” said the Captain. He turned to the barkeeper. “But I get the bird if I win.”
The barkeeper nodded. Swein moved to the door.
The pirates put on their blindfolds. They walked around the table, arms outstretched. The hag shouted, “Sit!” The pirates reached for the nearest seat. Captain Scarlight fell into a chair by the bar.
The pirates fumbled around the table. Their hands found the flintlocks, and five hands picked up five guns. Five thumbs cocked five hammers.
I would suggest you duck.
Captain Scarlight started at the voice in his head. He looked around, before remembering the blindfold.
My name is Methuselah, and I am the bird on the bar. Please trust me.
The voice made the Captain’s ears itch. He shook his head.
“Ready....aim....fire!” said the hag.
Captain Scarlight ducked. The deafening crack of a flintlock filled the room, followed by the thump of a lead shot into wood. The Captain tore off his blindfold to see a smoking gun pointed straight at him.
Scarlight scrambled out of his seat. The pirate holding the smoking gun pulled off his blindfold. His expression morphed from triumph into anger when he saw the hole in the wall.
“Cheat!” he screamed.
“Captain!” cried Swein.
Captain Scarlight grabbed the bird cage and ran across the room. The pirate tracked the captain across the bar, pulling the trigger until he remembered flintlocks held a single shot. The other pirates pulled off their blindfolds to see the commotion.
Swein yanked open the door and the Captain darted into the cold night air. Swein ran after him as the four pirates fell out of their seats in the hurry to pursue Scarlight and the stolen bird.
The Dead Calm lay further up the quay. Scarlight and Swein sprinted up the gangplank. The crew hauled the board onto the deck. The pursuing pirates missed their footing and plunged into the sea. Scarlight’s crew jeered at them as they cursed the Captain from the dark water.
“What’s this then, Cap’n?” asked Billy the Bosun.
Scarlight stood up and opened the cage. The parrot hopped onto his forearm.
“This is the newest member of our crew, er...”
Methuselah. My name is Methuselah.
* * *
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