He shuffled to a stop inside the cabin’s threshold, his gaze riveting on the uniformed back of a man who studied a wall map.
“Your smell,” said the officer, “tells me you’ve entered the room, number eighty-six.” The captain turned from his perusal of the chart and crinkled his nose. “A stinking bit of rubbish you are. You sleep in filth, you eat filth, you live in filth. You are filth.”
The prisoner’s fingers tightened on the chain of his manacles, but he said nothing.
Large ruffles partially concealing his wrist, the captain picked a sheet of paper off his cluttered desk. He glanced at the guard who waited at the door. “Leave us,” he ordered. “This vermin can’t harm me.”
Left alone with the prisoner, the captain flicked the page as though he held a soiled rag. “I have your history here, number eighty-six. A convicted mercenary.” He released the paper, allowing it to flutter back to his desk. A sneer tugged at the corner of his clean shaven mouth. “We’re transporting you to meet your deserved fate.”
He stepped closer, the sneer twisting into a taunting grin. “Rats like you deserve to die. No one will bewail your passing.”
Eighty-six steadied his gaze on a large black trunk set against a wall corner. Though the once shiny wording had worn away to almost total oblivion, a few faded letters spelled ‘...Van...’ He inhaled deeply through his nostrils. Slowly, quietly, he stretched his manacles’ chain to a taut line. “I am a man, an innocent man.”
“You are a criminal, worthy of your death.” The captain slapped Eighty-six’s cheek, the sound snapping like a cracked whip. “You’re naught but a rotten piece of scum.”
Eighty-six tensed, stifling his reflexes. He clenched his throbbing lips closed, blinking against the sweat that burned his eyes.
Van stepped within a hair’s length of touching nose-to-nose with the prisoner. “I read of your trial in the paper, saw your picture. I will tell you a secret – I was intrigued.” He paused. “Ask me why.”
Perfume wafted off the lacy collar of the officer’s shirt. Eighty-six swallowed down the scent, the flavor of lavender tingling his tongue. “Why?”
Van eased back, his features scrunching into a sly expression. “One reason. You bear an uncanny resemblance – to myself.”
Eighty-six lowered his lids, his gaze falling to the desk and landing on the discarded paper. The words, “...you’ll pay for your crime...” jumped out at him.
“You say nothing?” Van smirked when Eighty-six remained silent. “You should be honored that you could pass for my double.”
He met the captain’s look squarely. “Why have you had me brought here?”
Van’s eyes hardened. “Understand that you are a condemned man. You deserve no mercy. However – I make you an offer.”
Eighty-six didn’t flinch. “And that is?”
“I need you to keep an appointment -- in my stead.”
Eighty-six said nothing. The captain shrugged one bored shoulder. “It’s a nuisance, nothing more. Something I’ve not the time to be bothered with.”
“Yet you’re concerned enough that you ask me to go.”
“Merely to keep the bastards from hounding me. If they see you, but believe it’s me, then they’ll state their case and that will end the matter.”
“Why should I agree?”
Van shook his head in disbelief. “That should be obvious, you fool. I’m giving you a chance. After you do this deed, I’ll release you. If you’re recaptured later, it’ll be no fault of mine. But refuse me now and I’ll forget we had this talk.”
Eighty-six gave a slow nod. “Then I’ll take that chance.” He held up his manacled wrists. “When do these come off?”
Van fished a key from his breeches pocket and extended it. Eighty-six leapt like a jungle cat, wrapping the chain around the captain’s neck and yanking. Van had no time to react. His bulging eyes stared briefly before he dropped to his knees and then slumped to the floor.
Eighty-six snatched the key from Van’s slackened fingers. Unlocking his manacles and ankle shackles, he searched through another pocket of the captain’s breeches. A larger key opened the lock on the black trunk. He turned toward his captive, pressing the man’s throat for a sign of life. The faint beat against his thumb reassured him. With swift jerks, he tore the uniform off and then dumped the unconscious body inside the trunk. After stuffing a handkerchief in Van’s mouth, he locked the manacles and shackles in place, then lowered the trunk’s lid.
As he hurried to shave and wash himself in the small basin, his trained senses told him the mounting sways and pitches under his feet meant the ship had entered rough seas. Tying back his long hair with a ribbon, he donned the officer uniform. A hasty look in the mirror showed him a face almost identical to that of the captain.
He took up the straight razor and sliced a cut over his right eye, allowing blood to drip onto the ruffled shirt. Going to the cabin door, he swung it wide. Affecting the captain’s harsh tones, he bellowed, “You imbeciles! Eighty-six has escaped! Find him!”
Through the confusion of the crewman’s running footsteps, he made his way above deck. Howling wind and flapping sails heralded the arrival of a fierce storm. He yelled, “The criminal’s jumped overboard, you whimpering women! Forget him, man your stations!” Leaning in with the ship’s list, he headed toward an open tender.
“Captain, what are you doing?” A burly junior officer, struggling against the flailing main sail, flung a bewildered look his way.
He ignored the man and scampered inside the boat. The young officer sprang, latching onto his arm. Twisting around, he bloodied the fellow’s nose with a swift jab of his upraised elbow. Knocked off balance, the lieutenant stumbled against the railing. The wind smothered his scream as he plunged headlong into the frothy sea.
The small craft dropped heavily, bobbing like a cork on the angry waves. Fingers fumbling, Eighty-six fastened the oars in their locks and turned his back toward the gale. He glanced across his shoulder as the sky opened, unleashing a midnight curtain of pelting rain. Shaking his fist, he thundered into the storm, “Whatever destiny lies ahead for me, I’ll be damned if I help you cheat your fate, Captain van der Decken!”
Lightning sizzled overhead, for one brief moment illuminating the ship’s stern and the name, The Flying Dutchman.
Copyright © 2010 by Miss Mae
Cover Art by Miss Mae
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission by the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Printed in the United States of America
Fated Destiny is a work of fiction. Though some actual towns, cities, and locations may be mentioned, they are used in a fictitious manner and the events and occurrences were invented in the mind and imagination of the author. Any similarities of characters or names used within to any person past, present, or future are coincidental.
Prisoner 86's fate is in the hands of his merciless captain. Or is it? As their ship enters a raging thunderstorm, what bizarre event transforms their lives in an eternal destiny?