“Oh, it’s no great loss,” he said, but took the pouch anyway.
“Will you stay long?” I asked him.
“For a few weeks, yes. Then back to Barbados, to the tedium of domesticity.”
“Don’t settle for tedium,” I told him, “sail to Nassau. Live life as you see fit.”
By then he was halfway up the gangplank, his newly acquired crew readying themselves to set sail.
“Haven’t I heard that Nassau is crawling with pirates?” He laughed. “Seems a very tawdry place.”
I thought of it.
“No, not tawdry,” I told him. “Liberated.”
He smiled. “Oh, God, that would be an adventure. But no, no. I’m a husband and a father. I have responsibilities. Life can’t be all pleasure and distraction, Duncan.”
For a moment I’d forgotten about my assumed identity and felt the tremor of guilt. Bonnet had done nothing but help me. Quite what possessed me, I wasn’t sure. Guilt I suppose. But I told him.
“Hey, Bonnet. The name’s Edward in truth. Duncan is only an alias.”
“Ah . . .” He smiled. “A secret name for your secret meeting with the governor . . .”
“Yes, the governor,” I said. “Right. I think I’ve kept him waiting long enough.”
I went straight to Governor Torres’s residence, a vast mansion set behind steep walls and metal gates well away from Havana’s hubbub. There I told the sentries, “Good morning. Mr. Duncan Walpole of England to see the governor. I believe he is expecting me.”
“Yes, Mr. Walpole, please enter.”
That was easy.
The gates squeaked, a hot summer’s day sound, and I stepped through to be awarded with my first glance of how the other half lived. Everywhere were palm trees and short statues on plinths, and from somewhere the sound of running water. It was a marked contrast to the fortress, opulent where that had been grimy, gaudy where that had been forbidding.
As we walked, the two sentries stayed a respectful but watchful distance behind, and my limited Spanish picked up fragments of their gossip: apparently I was a couple of days late; apparently I was an “asesino,” an assassin, and there was something about the way they said the word assassin that was odd. The way they stressed it.
I kept my shoulders back, chin held high, thinking only that I needed to continue the subterfuge for a short while longer. I’d enjoyed being Duncan Walpole—it had felt liberating to leave Edward Kenway behind, and there were times I’d considered saying good-bye for good. Certainly there were parts of Duncan I wanted to keep, souvenirs, keepsakes: his robes, for one, his fighting style. His bearing.
Right now, though, what I wanted most was his reward.
We came into a courtyard, which was vaguely reminiscent of the fortress, except where that was a stony drill square overlooked by shadowed stone walkways, this was an oasis of sculpture, lush-leaved plants, and the ornate galleries of the palacio framing a sky of deep blue, a sun that smouldered in the distance.
There were two men already there. Both were well-dressed, men of class and distinction. More difficult to fool. Close by them was a rack of weapons. One of them stood aiming a pistol at a target while the other cleaned a pistol.
At the sound of myself and the sentries entering the courtyard the shooter looked over, annoyed at the interruption. With a little shake of his shoulders he composed himself, squinted along the line of the pistol and squeezed off a shot.
The sound rang around the courtyard. Applause came from startled birds. A tiny wisp of smoke rose from the dead centre of the target, which had rocked slightly on its tripod. The shooter looked to his companion with a wry smile, received an impressed eyebrow-raise in return, this the vocabulary of the wealthy. Then they turned their attention to me.
You’re Duncan Walpole, I told myself and tried not to wilt beneath their scrutiny. You’re Duncan Walpole. A man of danger. An equal. Here at the invitation of the governor.
“Good morning, sir!” The man who had been cleaning the gun smiled broadly. He had long greying hair tied back, and a face that had spent many an hour in the sea-breeze. “Would I be correct in thinking you are Duncan Walpole?”
Remembering how Walpole had spoken. Cultured tones.
“I am indeed,” I replied, and I sounded so false to my own ears that I half expected the gun cleaner to point his pistol straight at me and order the guards to arrest me on the spot.
Instead he said, “I thought as much,” and still beaming strode across the courtyard to offer me a hand that was as hard as oak. “Woodes Rogers. A pleasure.”
Woodes Rogers. I’d heard of him, and the pirate in me paled because Woodes Rogers was the scourge of my kind. A former privateer, he’d since declared a hatred of those who turned to piracy and pledged to lead expeditions aimed at rooting them out. A pirate such as Edward Kenway he’d like to see hanged.
But you’re Duncan Walpole, I told myself, and met his eye as I shook his hand firmly. Not a pirate, oh no. Perish the thought. An equal. Here at the invitation of the governor.
The thought, comforting as it had been, faded in my mind as I realized that he’d fixed me with a curious gaze. At the same time he wore a quizzical half smile, as though he’d had a thought and wasn’t sure whether to let it go free.
“I must say, my wife has a terrible eye for description,” he said, evidently letting his curiosity get the better of him.
“My wife. You met her some years ago at the Percys’ masquerade ball.”
“Ah, quite . . .”
“She called you ‘devilishly handsome.’ Obviously a lie to stoke my jealousy.”
I laughed as though in on the joke. Should I be offended he didn’t think me devilishly handsome? Or just pleased the conversation had moved on?
With my eyes on his gun, I plumped for the latter.
Now I was being introduced to the second man, a dark Frenchman with a guarded look called Julien DuCasse, who was calling me the “guest of honour” and talking about some “order” I was supposed to join. Again I was referred to as an “assassin.” Again it was with an odd emphasis I couldn’t quite decode.
He was querying the honesty of my “conversion” to the “order,” and my mind returned the wording of Walpole’s letter: “Your support for our secret and most noble cause is warming.”
What “secret and noble cause” would that be, then? I wondered.