Part the Two Hundred Thirty Fourth: By Blood Branded
“Aye,” said Mullins, rolling his shoulders like a storm swell, “I’ve seen Mont Carmel. Boston, Warwick, New Amsterdam, New Amstel, Jamestown. I’ve seen the lot of all the ports up and down the coast.”
“So you’re well traveled in the New World, then?” Hope asked.
“Aye, I’ve seen most all of it. Whether those ports wanted me or not.”
“So how did you get into those ports closed to you?” Samuel asked.
“At night, often rowing in on muffled oars. Lots of souls wanting things they either can’t get or afford.”
“You make your smuggling sound like just another business, sir,” said Hope.
“Well, I don’t so much smuggle myself as much as I make sure a fair deal is struck.”
“And the way you make sure such a deal is struck?”
Mullins took a deep breath and said, “To be honest, I provide the persuasion needed to make sure there is a deal.”
“Fair or otherwise?” Samuel asked.
“Can’t say I don’t try always to bargain from a position of strength. Lost my eye to a ‘gentleman’ who tried to hold back on us in Saint Pierre. So I tend to act, not talk.”
“I can’t see you lasting too long in the càrcel in San Juan,” said de Rojo. “One of the nastiest, foulest places ever built in the world.”
“You seem to have done well there,” Mullins said as he eyed him up and down.
“I only visited there once, to see my uncle Esteban. He was there for fighting with another fisherman, and we came to see him before he was hung.”
“The fight, I assume…” Hope trailed.
“Si. My mother, she wanted us seeing him there, that we learn a lesson, that we see what happened to him and not make his mistakes.”
“So when did you make your mistake, lad?” Mullins asked.
“A few years later, there was a cabrón who robbed us blind. My father borrowed from him when times were bad, not knowing that he’d arranged our bad fortune.”
“How did he do that?” Hope asked.
“Cutting the nets at night so that they would break, and fraying lines on the boat. He willingly offered to assist us when catches were bad, but he kept planting the seeds in my father’s mind that the best way to replay the kindness would be to offer him my sister as his bride. And then I caught him one night over the nets; mi volvi loco.”
“And that was the first man you killed,” Mullins stated, not asked.
“Si. I went pirate from there and stayed at sea, unable to return home.”
“And how did you know,” Hope asked Mullins, “that he was a killer?”
“There’s an air about a man,” he replied, giving a brief glance at Charity before continuing, “about any person that’s gotten blood on their hands. One sees it in how they look at you, how they move like lords, knowing full well what they can do now. Having the Mark of Cain upon them, all their fear gone now that they know Death well, makes them stand out from the more innocent. Once you’ve tasted blood, you can tell on sight who else among you knows that taste.”
Hope shuffled nervously, wondering what Mullins must have thought of her innocence…
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