Doll heard Bart’s familiar footstep tap-tapping across the gangplank. She wiped her hands on a towel and went up top to greet him, leaving the galley in the capable hands of Reginald the cabin boy.
Her husband was leaning on the gunwale, staring out to sea, his back to the harbour.
“Hello, love,” Doll took a step closer. Bart did not turn around. “Love?”
His shoulders slumped. Flintlock the parrot flew from him with a squawk and flapped his way to the crow’s nest, screeching in protest.
“I tried, m’dear,” Bart seemed to deflate like a punctured bladder. “But those scurvy dogs won’t give an inch.”
“But – but – what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed to live?” Tears sprang to Doll’s eyes. It was Reginald she felt sorry for. The lad knew no other way of life. “You showed them your leg?”
“Aye, that I did, Doll.”
“They peered at it, asked how I’d got it, so I told them about that altercation with that shark.”
“And did they say you could claim compensation?”
“They said it wasn’t a work-related injury, what with us being on holiday in the Bahamas at the time, and because we had no travel insurance – well. They did day I could sell it to an antique collector or some such. Lovely bit of carving – they did say that, at least.”
“But – if you sell it, you won’t have a leg to stand on!”
“Told them that an’ all.”
“Your hook! Did you show them your hook?”
“O’ course I showed them my damned hook, woman! But when they heard how I lost my hand in a duel with French Peter, they said I should take the blackguard to court. Only I can’t, can I, seeing as how I sent French Peter to Davey Jones’s locker.”
“Your eye, then! What did they say when you lifted your eye patch?”
“They – they laughed at me.”
“When I told them I how I come to lose my eye.”
“Scurvy landlubbers!” Doll seethed.
“Oh, come on, love. It is pretty funny when you think of it. Me only just having the hook fitted, then ol’ Flintlock shitting in my eye and without thinking I reach up to wipe it off and – well, you know the rest.”
He put his good arm around her and pulled her close, planting a kiss on her brow.
“We’ll get by, love. We always do. I’ll just have to do a few more raids, that’s all.”
“But how? There’s no crew because there’s no booty to pay them with. You’re only half the man you used to be. You’re old – I’m old. Why can’t we retire?”
“Because, my dear, as you well know, when he sank to the bottom of the ocean, French Peter took our treasure map with him. That was our nest egg, our security. I never thought of taking out a blasted pension.”
Doll gave up fighting back her tears. “So, we have to go on working, do we? Pirates until we drop.”
“Arr,” said Bart sadly. “It ain’t such a bad life, me hearty.”
But even he did not sound convinced.
“Avast!” roared young Reginald, joining them on deck. “Don’t cry, Doll.” He patted the arm of the woman he had come to regard as his mother. “I say we aim our guns at yon DWP office and blast it off the map.”
Bart tousled the boy’s hair. “Belay that. The Department of Work and Pensions has got offices everywhere. We can’t attack them all.”
Reginald sniffed. He put his arms around the pirate captain’s great belly.
“Look at us, lily-livered, yellow-bellied landlubbers,” Bart smiled. “We’ll do fine. I heard tell while I was in the harbour of the shiny new Royal yacht heading this way. Plenty of plunder on that particular waste of public money. We shall be set for life! Now, up anchor, splice the main brace and set a course to intercept. There’s life in this old sea dog yet!”
With that, Black-Eyed Bartholomew straightened his tricorn and took hold of the wheel. The Saucy Susan set out to sea.