Jamie had second thoughts about swallowing his ruby; it remained in his mouth like a tasteless mint. There was no way to get it out without calling attention to himself.
He looked at the long, fish-gutting knives that hung from some of the ammo belts. Sucking the ruby helped his dry mouth. The sun and the glare gave him a headache. The sweat seemed to roll down his body in waves.
The pirates barely glanced at Kell and Jamie as they began a thorough search of the boat. Shouting at each other in some foreign babble, keeping any stray items they thought worth the trouble, the pirates systematically tore through the boat.
The leader found the leather bag and was examining the contents, piece by piece. One of the others opened Kell's leather duffel to sort through the artifacts.
The leader walked up to where Jamie and Kell stood sweating in the sun. He held out his hand and growled out something that sounded like "More!"
"Oh, you've got it all, sir, yes, that's the whole kit and caboodle, we'd not be holding out on you, would we, Jamie?"
Kell gave the leader a big smile, and Jamie a friendly slap on the back.
Jamie lurched forward, and in an effort not to swallow, he spit instead. The ruby shot out of Jamie's mouth, across the hot deck, and plopped into the azure water.
And breathing, "Holy shit!" Jamie ran two strides across the boat and dived in after it.
He'd spent weeks pearl diving when they'd been in the French Polynesians, and the training paid off; in twenty-five feet of clear water, strangely devoid of the usual schools of bright fish, he swam down after the ruby. It was as bright as a drop of blood on the white sands. He fumbled for a minute, it jumped out of his fingers twice, then he swam to the top, the stone clenched tight in his fist. "Hey," he yelled, shaking back his hair from his eyes. "I got it!"
He grinned at the cheering. Maybe this would buy their lives...
"Jamie, look out!" Kell called.
Suddenly he got a feeling that the cheers were not for him.
The pirates were nudging each other, laughing, and pointing at something behind him, running and jostling for a better view, causing the small craft to list dangerously. Jamie looked behind him and saw the slick dark fin bearing down.
He turned and shot toward the boat. Almost immediately he was hit and tossed sideways. He came up swimming fast. In what seemed like a split second, another shove to the butt seemed to almost boost him into the boat, where Kell grabbed him under the arms and hoisted him onto the deck.
Jamie lay huddled, still clenching his fist, his eyes shut tight. He was choking out water, gasping in air.
"K-K-K-Kellen, is everything still on?"
For all he knew, he was missing a limb. He thought he could still feel his arm, his leg, but knew from other's stories that wasn't a reliable indication.
"Yes, Jamie, all your appendages are still attached, including the one you value most." Kell sounded like he was laughing.
Jamie uncurled and got shakily to his feet.
From the back of his right shoulder down to his elbow, the skin was rubbed off; and when the shark had brushed his right leg it'd taken Jamie's pants off, as well as the hide of his buttock and upper thigh.
Jamie stood naked and bleeding and breathing hard with pain. He felt like he'd been skinned and dipped in salt water. He became aware that the pirates were watching him. Speculation? Admiration? He walked up to the leader without a trace of a limp and only a suggestion of a swagger.
"You missed one." He grinned. He held out the ruby and dropped it into the scar-seamed hand.
The pirates burst into guffaws of rowdy laughter, and Jamie knew he'd cheated death twice that day.
"Well, at least they didn't take the whiskey." Kell lay on the deck, studying the stars. He was propped up on his sea bag to take a swig from the bottle.
Jamie lay on his left side, shifting to find a comfortable position, but it was useless. He wasn't going to be able to sit for a week—unless his wounds stopped oozing by tomorrow, he'd sail into Sri Lanka naked.
Jamie took a long pull at the bottle. The pain was as bad as a severe burn, and Kell charitably didn't object to his taking more than his share.
Kell laughed. "By God, Jamie, that was the fastest swimming I've ever seen from a man. We'll have to work up a show—the Jamie Sommers Swimming and Comedy Act. Should be easy from now on—I'm sure you've played your toughest audience."
Jamie chuckled. He could imagine how funny he'd looked, shooting through the water. Kell said he'd been yelling, too, though he didn't remember that.
"Wonder why that shark didn't bite me?"
"Must have been a lady shark. The ladies always like to give you a good rub before they bite, hey, Jamie?"
Jamie grinned but didn't pursue that line of conversation, the ladies being a source of friendly, and sometimes not so friendly, competition between them.
(Besides the occasional competition, their styles were very different. Kell would invest in a long courtship if he had the time; the game was as enjoyable to him as the score. Jamie liked to get right to business, and in Kell's opinion, was too fast to pull out his wallet... he was irritated by the fact that Jamie would spend money on what would be easily obtainable for free—
"A handsome young lad like yourself shouldn't have to pay a woman for sex."
"Ain't payin' 'em for sex. Payin' 'em to leave me alone, after."
Jamie was serious, but Kell roared, and often worked that conversation into a story, whether it fit or not.)
"No, Jamie, the shark didn't bite you for the same reason the pirates didn't gut you—your luck was with you today."
Jamie pondered that. In spite of everything, he knew it was true. They had no money, no cargo to trade, no jewels, damn little water, only this rust bucket between them and the schools of sharks, attracted by Jamie's blood, that swam in silent circles around the boat. Once in a while one would bump the boat, giving it a perversely gentle rocking motion.
And yet, his luck was with him. Kell was right about that.
"Well, Jamie, it's been a while since I first saw forty, and I'm getting too old for this line of work. I'm thinking of going to Monte Carlo, finding some rich widows who are susceptible to my charms. If all else fails, I know of one in America who'll be amiable to my persuasions. You coming along, lad?"
A while since Kell had seen forty ... Jamie had a hard time believing Kell was that old. Probably because he had more energy than anyone Jamie had ever known. The
talking alone Kell did would wear Jamie out.
"You're always welcome, you know—you're a scrapper, lad," Kell said. "A born scrapper. Grit. I like that in a man. I admired that about you the first day we met."
Jamie had taken on two guys in a Hawaiian bar, bested them both, mostly because they were drunk and by luck of the draw, he wasn't, and because he was small and very fast, and they were neither.
"Let me buy you a drink, young Jamie," Kell had offered, once the brawl was over.
Jamie took the drink gladly.
"So you're finished with the navy? And what plans do you have now? Well, it's always a good thing to have a plan—but I can see you're a man of action. I'm a man of thought. We could make a team, Jamie."
And then, "So you're familiar with the South China Sea? I have some prospects there. Oil, it'll be big there someday, Jamie. I know a man ..."
So Kell and Jamie shipped out together. Jamie loved Kell's way with words. He knew how to string them together, make them into weapons, music, dreams. On calm nights, in crew quarters, Kell's brogue would carry through the bunks. Stories, plans, bullshit so pleasant the sailors wished it the truth, forgave him the cons, scams, the cheats he tormented them with—Kell carried visions; they would have forgiven him much worse.
And Jamie, for the first time not lonely, would have forgiven him anything. But had much more sense than to trust him. They'd wandered together for a year, off and on, Kell busy with some business in Malaysia, Jamie working a cargo-liner run from Kota Kinabalu to Brunei, off Borneo, when Kell got wind of this fabulous deal, trading cargoes in Rangoon ... yes, Burma wasn't the safest of places right now, but it'd set them up for life, he said....
"Yeah," Jamie said now. He searched again for a comfortable position, but he bit back a groan at the pain. "I wouldn't mind a look at the French Riviera." He couldn't help it. "You got a plan after that?"
"We sell insurance in Baltimore."
Kell laughed when Jamie choked on his next gulp of whiskey.
"How much do you think those jewels were worth?" Jamie said, after a long silence. "Millions, lad. Millions."