It was when he was struck across the shoulder with a belaying pin that Michael O'Leary was sure his cover was blown. He'd played the slightly simple crewman for three days, but clearly his attempt at stealing the cargo was premature. He fell to the deck, wondering whether he looked as stupid as he felt.
Degas came over. It had been his underling, Marchant, who had dealt the blow. "Stand up." he said.
"So he can knock me down again?" said Michael.
"Who sent you to steal from me?" said Degas.
"An angel." said Michael, "He came to me in a dream and said, 'That bastard Degas has too much, and he's a sinful man, go and lighten his load and take the cargo as a reward for your virtue.'"
"Your mouth should close, before it cuts your throat." said Degas.
Michael stood, slowly and cautiously. The only other vessel nearby was a small yacht, the type used by almost everyone on Barbados who had the money and the inclination to sail one. No help from there for him or for his opponents, probably not even a radio. He smiled hopefully at Degas. "Youthful indiscretion?"
"I despise youth and punish indiscretion." said Degas, "You were a part of my crew."
"I've seen you cut members of your crew." said Michael.
"Have you ever seen me kill one?"
"No." said Michael. The other yacht had moved and a man aboard it seemed to be interested in what was happening. He prayed, inexpertly, that the man had a radio and some concern for another chap in trouble.
"Because you are a thief, but a brave one, I will give you a choice. You can swim from here, or I can shoot you."
"Swim!" he said, not sure he could make it to land, but willing to have a good try at swimming to the other yacht.
Degas laughed unpleasantly. "He cannot swim so far like that. Marchant, fetch him a rope."
With Degas pointing a gun at him, he had no choice but to allow his arms and legs to be bound. Held down at the edge of the boat, he could no longer see the other yacht, but any help would be too late. "I don't suppose you know Daniel Chalmers?" he said, there were weirder and more isolated places where the name had worked magic.
"No." said Degas, "But if he ever asks me about you, I'll tell him you died like a porpoise in a fishing net."
"I don't die, Degas. People keep trying to kill me and I just don't die."
"All lucky streaks end. Yours ends here, unless your angel saves you." said Degas.
He took as deep a breath as he could as they lifted him, but expelled it as he hit the water, which felt a lot harder than he remembered it. He struggled with the rope, but the searing pain of his lungs as they failed to adapt to an aquatic life drove him into a panic where all he could do was thrash. As he sank and struggled and realised just how much he wanted to live, he found he had no idea of which way was up.
Something odd happened as his lungs filled with water. It stopped hurting and his only thought was that, if he had to die, slipping into unconsciousness in the crystalline aquamarine of the warm sea was one of the better offers he'd had.
He wondered if his life was going to flash before his eyes. It hadn't been a long one, but maybe they'd fill the gaps with movies.
He felt something touch the back of his leg. It didn't move away. Hoping it was the bottom, he tried kicking against it. He felt dizzy and sick, but he wanted to try. Daniel would have wanted him to fight to the last second.
His shirt was caught on something, then whatever had his shirt was gripping him around the chest. He struggled automatically, but he was weakening fast and whatever it was overpowered him.
He was being pulled somewhere and his feeble attempts to break free did nothing to save him. He was barely conscious when his head broke the surface and only managed to register that the desperation to breathe paradoxically returned only when he was in the air, lying on something wooden and almost blinded by the sun.
He felt like a fish as he was hurled onto his side and left to gasp. He coughed and choked and heard a voice say, "You, my friend, are a very difficult person to rescue."
He opened and closed his mouth, struggling to breathe, but longing to speak.
His rescuer went on. "You swallowed half the sea. Don't do that again." He coughed a little. He too had suffered in that dramatic feat of swimming.
The sun was setting as they arrived at the shore. Michael had finally stopped coughing and his rescuer had helped him to sit in the bow of the yacht.
"Your friends left fast." said his rescuer.
"I think I lost my job." said Michael.
"Do you have any nicer friends?"
Michael shook his head. "Not here. One in London."
"London is far away."
The stranger went to secure the yacht. When it was done, Michael said, "I have nothing, but soon, I'll have plenty and I'll pay you."
"When I'm lucky." said Michael.
"I think you've used all your luck for the next few years. What's your name?"
"O'Leary, Mick O'Leary. What's yours?"
"Monroe. Monroe Henderson."
"I'm a sailor." said Michael.
"I'm a pirate." said Monroe, "Well, pirate, smuggler, petty crook and tour guide."
"Quite a list." said Michael, "I lied about the sailor part."
"So what are you?"
"Indebted to a pirate." said Michael.
"I have a place. It's not much, but the rain doesn't come in and the money generally does and there's an old lady who comes in once a week and herds the cockroaches into different rooms."
"Sounds a lot better than sleeping on the beach." said Michael.
"Do you know the law as regards flotsam and jetsam?" said Monroe.
"Flotsam is stuff washed overboard, jetsam is stuff thrown off a ship." said Michael.
"You're the latter, clearly." said Monroe.
"As salvage goes, I'm not very valuable." said Michael.
"My home is yours, my boat is at your disposal, I have food and money I can share with you. I have only one rule, anyone under my roof is my friend. I will trust you like a brother. Don't let me down."
"You saved my life." said Michael, "I will never forget that."
Monroe smiled. "Don't blow it out of proportion. I needed the diving practice."