It took them three solid days and nights of sailing to evade the Royal Navy frigates. On the fourth day they wearily limped into the hopefully safe haven of Nassau, almost crazy with lack of sleep and physical exhaustion.
This was the life The Black Orchid had consigned himself to and there was no room for women, even heartbreakingly beautiful women with fire in their eyes.
Before he could rest he had to go ashore and make sure the ship's supplies were replenished. There was a huge tear in one of the sails, and the cook had gone missing back in Bridgetown and needed replacing if any of them were to eat more than dry biscuits ever again. It was on days like this that Tom Ashdown really felt the ridiculous lie of the legend of The Black Orchid. He was just a man trying to do a job, one that involved far more running away than attacking. Currently a very tired man. And permanently a frustrated one.
Tom wore his plainest clothes and a battered tricorn hat over his distinctive head. He did not want to be recognised today. Sometimes it helped to be a living legend but today he was beyond weary and did not need to make anyone tremble in fear. He just needed to be left alone to get on with his errands. Even living legends had chores.
But he forgot to conceal the damned tattoo and was cornered outside a tavern by a ridiculously curvaceous whore intent on bedding a buccaneer. Her huge bosom heaved inches from his face as her hand over enthusiastically kneaded his unresponsive groin. He was too exhausted to fend her off. He just slumped against the wall with her eager hands practically undressing him. He was tempted to pull out his dagger, the steel variety that is, and put an end to her explorations by pressing it against her fleshy neck. He would like to hear her squeal but he summoned the energy to push her away instead. She landed heavily on her bottom with a cry of protest and he stalked off leaving her to find her pieces of eight someplace else. He hated this God forsaken town. Everyone in it was feverish for money and nothing else.
He asked around the taverns for a cook and was eventually directed to a place that was nothing more than a shack, down by the docks. As he pushed his way into the crowded darkness he had a feeling this was not a good place to be. There was a stench of rotting fish and body odour. The crowd of men were gambling, slamming cards down onto a crate in front of them.
Thomas saw who he was looking for through the dank gloom, a big sweating man with rotten teeth.
"Fergus Tuck?" he shouted into the tumult.
The man turned to him, flexing his bulky biceps threateningly.
This was the moment to unleash the legend.
Thomas took off his hat and drew himself to his full height, fixing them all with his piercing blue eyes.
"The Black Orchid," someone stated helpfully
"And who the hell is he?" the huge man bellowed. He really was very stupid.
Tom whipped out his sword and holding it steady, the sharp tip almost touching the cretin's bulbous nose, said slowly and quietly, "You are about to find out."
His words were enough to silence the crowd, and as one, the gamblers took a step backwards. The big man stared at the more imposing man in front of him, mouth agape. Thomas stood in assured silence for a while, sword poised, eyes piercing.
"Are you a cook?" he asked pleasantly.
"Yes," the man gulped.
"Good, come with me," he said, lowering his sword and sweeping out of the room.
"You are not a sailor are you?" Tom said, as they walked across the deck of 'The Innocent.'
"No, Sir," the big man replied, unsteady on his feet.
"Then what brings you to Nassau?"
"A string of bad luck. I had a good living in Barbados, was cook to some toffs newly arrived, but the man went and died, and left his lady wife in the protection of a lilly livered coward."
He almost fell trying to negotiate a coil of rope. Tom nimbly stepped out of the way. He had no intention of being crushed by 250 pounds of landlubber.
"She was a looker, by God! Breasts like ripe melons, lips that could have sucked you dry. I'd have liked a taste of her cunny, but a gang of thieves got to her first."
He was coarse, but he told a good story.
"Dragged her off in the night and burnt the house down. No sign of the man who was supposed to be protecting her. I got out just in time. Got filthy drunk that night and woke up on a schooner bound for the Bahamas. Two days later here I am, shoved from pillar to post. Don't know which end's up."
Tom thought for a moment. "If you cook for us, I will pay you well plus a share of our booty. There are just a few rules; no gambling, no drink below deck, fights to be conducted on shore and…" he fixed him with his blue stare, "no women on board."
The man nodded, too intimidated to refuse.
"By the way," the Captain drawled, "The woman with the lovely breasts, what was her name?"
"Lady Letitia Howard, God rest her soul."