Nassau, The Bahamas, 1730
Summer in the Caribbean was stormier than other seasons, but the average day was unremarkable: hot and humid, the air thick with unshed rains, the sun rising and falling in its unchanging arc across the sky. Except for the years he spent sailing past the Cape of Good Hope and stealing and selling wares throughout coastal Asia, Domingo had never known anything different from the swollen clapboard, sun-baked bricks, and mildewed textiles of the urban maritime tropics. He had never set foot in a place where the air did not reek of saltwater and spices.
A trickle of sweat trailed down the back of Domingo’s neck and dipped between his shoulder blades as he gazed out over the aquamarine waters off the north shore of New Providence. There was no mistaking the ship weighing anchor just past the tip of Hog Island: the HMS Royal Sovereign. Domingo would recognize her at three nautical miles on a foggy day.
The harsh sun glinted off the rolling whitecaps breaking over the reef. It would be yet another muggy afternoon of the dog days of summer, weeks of sultry weather that sapped energy and wilted ambition.
The Sovereigns had already begun to unload on longboats. Domingo swallowed against a parched tongue when he thought about the one sailor he hoped would be aboard and granted shore leave. It had been several months since he last laid eyes or hands on James Flint of His Majesty’s Naval Service, and Domingo knew they were long overdue for a reunion.
Domingo figured he had at least half an hour before the first Sovereigns hit the shore, so he made his way from the already crumbling fortifications, past rows of shining canons, down worn steps, and headed for the heart of the Nassau marketplace.
* * * *
Domingo, a shipless pirate since arriving in Nassau, let his tattoos speak for themselves. Though tattoos were still unfamiliar to some in this part of the world, any sailor worth his salt could read Domingo’s work experience inked into his skin. His forearm tattoos alone had secured him more work at sea than any words ever did. Domingo had been taking it easy for a while, but his pockets were empty and he needed to set sail again soon. Now that he knew James might be in town, Domingo decided to slow his search for work. He could afford a few more days of idleness if it meant reuniting with James, if only for a short time.
It would take some preparation before he was ready to welcome James appropriately, but Domingo had a plan. Domingo always had a plan and was usually two steps ahead of everyone else.
Domingo knew Nassau well. He spent time there as a boy when it was still a pirate republic, back in the days when Blackbeard sailed the West Indies. The market was an assault to the senses when he reached it: colorful wares, steamy and rank seafood scents, a cacophony of animal sounds and multilingual haggling, bumping elbows, and tripping toes. It was a collection of contradictions: sweet fruit scents competing with savory meats, soft textiles sold beside fishing hooks, wealthy vendors shouting over the pleas of hollow-eyed beggars. And running beneath it all, the ubiquitous sharp scent of the sea and burning bouquet of the spice trade. The market was an unrelenting sensory barrage, and the ideal place to take what Domingo needed without arousing suspicion.
He filched a mango from a well-stocked stall as he wended through the pungent crowds. He cut strips from the fruit, cubed its flesh, and folded back the skin to pop juicy morsels into his mouth. When the mango was gone, he snagged a pastry. He munched on this as he eyed a chandler’s spread of tallow and beeswax candles from his perch in a fragrant magnolia tree across the street.
A smoked snapper made it into his sea bag and a beaded bracelet onto his wrist before he reached the chandler’s shady stall.
“Can I help you?” the chandler asked when Domingo arrived at his ultimate destination. Normally, Domingo could navigate markets as unnoticed as an alley cat. This chandler was perceptive.