Nosing through the fog, the brigantine Royal Pickle barely left a wake. The Jolly Roger on her stern gave a desultory flap then hung limp. Standing beside the helmsman, Captain Greybeard lowered his spyglass, sighed and reached for a tankard of recently pillaged naval rum. It was as cold as Mrs Greybeard’s farewell kiss. When we finally reach Bermuda I’ll plunder a little something for her, he decided. Or maybe not. He recalled the last thing he picked up there was treated with mercury.
He pushed the spyglass back against his good eye. “Still nothing, Toby.”
The helmsman stopped buffing his nails. “Not unless you count fog, Cap’n.”
How long had their ship been sailing the Western Atlantic? Greybeard checked his log. Six days ago, they had slipped from heavy rain and churning swells into the silent calm of a pea-souper worthy of Limehouse in winter.
In theory, the ship should be almost within cannon range of Bermuda’s main town, St George’s. Instead, his map plotting showed their course formed a triangle. An omen? Surely not.
He felt a puff of wind on his scarred cheek. Perhaps it was time to stop shaving with a dagger blade.
“Land, ho!” The shout from the crow’s nest roused the card-playing crew. Seconds before the fo’c’sle was bare, now it was crowded with men jostling to see what lay ahead.
Fumbling for his flintlock pistol, Greybeard shouted: “Avast ye scurvy dogs!”
Toby whispered in the Captain’s ear: “Could you be a little more specific?”
A click signalled a cocked pistol.
“However,” Toby added quickly, “we get the gist.”
The unfurling mainsail picked up the freshening wind, propelling the Royal Pickle towards the dark land.
The wind brought rain. By nightfall, Greybeard could barely make out the cliffs on either side of the harbour entrance. He didn’t recall them being that high. Drenched, blinded in one eye by the rain and in the other by a decade-old sword slash, he gave the order to drop anchor. Heartened by the thought of a dawn attack, he went below to sleep.
Hours later, Greybeard sensed he was not alone. He was right. The Quartermaster’s face hovered inches from his own.
“We’re doomed!” wailed the Quartermaster.
Greybeard swung his legs out of bed, vowing on the next voyage to shanghai a crew with a more positive attitude.
The sky was a pale grey. Blinking in the morning light, Greybeard climbed to the poop deck.
Doomed, indeed. Instead of St George’s familiar harbour, Greybeard faced an alien landscape. Strangely shaped buildings, some seemingly made of glass, others the size of castles, packed the shoreline. Around the Royal Pickle, dozens of small sailing craft swung at anchor.
Turning to his slack-jawed crew, Greybeard drew his cutlass. “Not St George’s, I’ll grant you, but there’s booty to be had. Come, follow me into the mouth of Hell. Let the bravest of the brave step forward.”
As one, the crew took a step backwards.
Greybeard rolled his eye. “Toby will shame you with his lion-like courage. What sayeth our hero?”
Within minutes, the still sleepy Toby had been dragged from his hammock and paraded before the crew. Greybeard clapped a hand on Toby’s shoulder. “Thank you for volunteering. Adventure awaits.”
Sighing for a light breakfast, Toby pulled wearily on the tender’s oars. Greybeard sat astern, pipe lit.
The bow struck a narrow beach with a soft crunch and both men clambered out, hands resting on their sword hilts. The first line of houses edged the beach. A rain-slicked road ran off to the right. Toby grasped Greybeard’s sleeve. “I could’ve sworn I saw a carriage moving without horses.”
“Get a grip, lad.”
Toby clung tighter to the sleeve.
“Not of me.” Shaking himself free, Greybeard strode towards the nearest house where two men stood on a balcony, the younger stabbing a tablet with his index finger while the other spoke loudly and slowly: “Headline: ‘Heaven Can Wait, This Is Paradise Now!’ … no, no, too morbid … Headline: ‘Your Friends Will Look Like the Losers They Are.’ Body copy: Heavenly harbourfront home at an eye-watering price. As you sip your Aquavit cocktail, you’ll hear the jingling of nearby yacht riggings and the grinding of your jealous friends’ teeth. Gold standard …”
“Ahoy!” Greybeard stood on the beach, hands on hips. “What call you this place?”
“Double Bay,” replied the older man.
“Postcode 2028. Far more fashionable. Speaking of which, I love your fancy dress.”
Toby smoothed his tunic and adjusted his tricorne hat. “Oh, it’s just a little …”
Greybeard stiffened. “Dress? You picaroon!” Cutlass between his teeth, he heaved himself over a low garden wall and rushed the house.
It took Toby several minutes to find the garden gate and then the stairs to the balcony. Sword raised, he tiptoed forward.
Greybeard was stretched out on a lounging chair, a glass of coloured liquid to his lips. “Toby, you must try this. They call it a Mojito. The rum is Caribbean even if this strange land isn’t.”
The older man on the balcony flung an arm across Toby’s shoulders, swept him forward and pushed a mint leaf-topped drink into his shaking hand. “We’re Caveat & Emptor, real estate agents to Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs gentry. I’m Caveat. Your Captain was just explaining there’re chests of gold aboard your ship. Think of us as family.”
“And,” interrupted Emptor, “you think this is 1717.”
Greybeard handed his empty glass to Emptor for a refill. “These lubbers claim it’s 2017 and that we entered something called the Bermuda Triangle’s time and spice wrap.”
“Space warp,” corrected Emptor.
“Nevertheless,” said Caveat, with the urgency of a man sensing the conversation drifting away from a sale, “you’ve got a lucky face, Captain. This house could be just the haven you and your … err … your life partner have dreamt of. I have a suggestion: a get-to-know-the-suburb stroll.”
With slimline suits buttoned and trailing clouds of Givenchy Gentleman, the agents strutted through Double Bay while the pirates, unkempt kit smelling of damp wool and stale rum, scampered behind.
The group paused in Knox Street to admire the passing activewear-clad posteriors. Greybeard rested his own buttocks on the bonnet of a parked Maserati. Leaning forward, Caveat flicked a silver Dunhill lighter over the Captain’s pipe bowl. “Well?”
Greybeard took a puff then smiled. “I do like a port where tattooed women have puffy lips larger than rolled blankets.”
Presto! A contract for the harbourfront mansion materialised in Caveat’s hand. A pen appeared in Emptor’s.
Greybeard tapped his pipe out on the Maserati’s fender. “I’m not buying, I’m selling. I can see a wonderful future for Toby and me in your business.”
The contract and pen evaporated. Adjusting his Paul Keating signature range silk tie, Caveat turned away. Greybeard caught his elbow. “Wait, partner! Here’s our radical new approach: we tell potential buyers a fake low anticipated sale price then when we’ve whipped up plenty of interest, we sell for the much higher real price.”
Caveat slapped his own forehead. “A brilliant concept. Who else would’ve thought of that? But is it legal?”
The pirate began refilling his pipe. “Hopefully not.”
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Copyright 2017 GREG FLYNN