Part the One Hundred Forty Third: El Ecomienda
Hope hated the man they had to bargain with on sight.
She didn’t like his squat frame and features, which made him look like a witch’s imp. His grimy clothing had stains that suggested he not only was in contact with materials that disgusted her, but probably rolled around in them. And she was frankly scarred of the smells that preceded him as he emerged from the ramshackle house.
“Ah, mi Rojo Dulce!” he said as he walked out the door of the run-down Spanish structure at the edge of the woods, its shutters now remnants of wood. The building that greeted Hope, Abigail and the rest of the shore party had clearly seen better days, but had long since fallen in sympathetic disrepair down to the level of its occupant.
“Esteban! Muy ecomienda!” said Abigail, the enthusiasm in her greeting barely hiding her contempt.
“And the rest of your desperate crew as well,” he said as he looked over the rest of the party. “Ah, Osei! You finally decided my price for him was worth it?”
“And lose a good quartermaster for less than I could get for turning you over to the Corregidor? Not a chance, Esteban.”
“Always so pleasant. If it weren’t for your shining visage in these desolate surrounding, you might-”
His banter stopped as his eyes landed on Hope. His intense gaze made her instinctively cover herself, as though he’d caught her naked.
“Esto es una muchacha hermosa,” he said as she stepped closer.
“She’s crew too,” said Abigail. “She’s earned her keep.”
“You never seem to want to send my way un pequeño negocio, Rojo. Think of how much more trade you could do with me if you had what I needed.”
“And gold’s not good enough for ye?”
“You know my main product’s flesh,” he said, still eyeing Osei and Hope. “When el Repartimiento needs more hands for the woods and fields, and doesn’t have time to wait for some poor bastards to end up here, I give him what he wants.”
“You’re a slave trader, then?” Hope asked.
“And what a beautiful voice she has,” he continued. “Not just slaves, pelo de oro, no. I also provide asientos off the boat from España and fresh out of debtors prison, as well as what naturales are still left in their jungle villages.”
“And out here,” said Abigail, “supposedly being the ‘gamekeeper’ for the plantation, you can trade as you wish without questions, as long as they get them their workers when needed, eh?”
“You know me, Rojo, having extra hands to offer is always a good thing,” said Esteban. “Though you, you never come to me for that, do you? Despite how good the trade could be.”
“You know I don’t traffic in souls, and it’s only your ties to the comerciantae in Arecibo that puts us within hailing distance of each other. Which brings us to why we’re here-”
Hope’s head shot to the side as a branch broke.
The rest of the shore party reached for their weapons and drew.
Hope looked at Esteban, who didn’t react. She started to whisper curses at him for setting up an ambush…
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