The Girl from Everywhere (The Girl from Everywhere #1)(4) by Heidi Heilig

Even if the Coast Guard wasn’t inclined to search us, they would take any chance to stand on the deck and spin the wheel and tell Slate how they played pirates when they were children. Of course, once on deck they were bound to hear the tigers roaring. I gritted my teeth and waited for the captain as below, our illicit cargo growled in their rickety cages.

Just as I was about to knock again, Slate emerged from his cabin with the radio hissing, but he stared at the Coast Guard ship for a long time, blinking slowly in the fading glow of sunset. My heart sank; his pupils were the size of dimes. “Captain?”

My voice startled him to action. He lifted the microphone. “New York Coast Guard, New York Coast Guard, New York Coast Guard, this is the ship Temptation, Temptation, Temptation, over.”

A brief crackle of static, and then a hiss as we waited. Bee gnawed her finger. “Did he find another map?”

I shook my head. “He can’t Navigate now, not with them watching.”

“Can’t or won’t?” Bee said.

“Shouldn’t,” I said. “People will report it. Or film it and put it on YouTube.”

“Privacy is important,” Bee said. “You get little of it in prison.”

“New York Coast Guard, New York Coast Guard.” Slate bounced the microphone impatiently in his hand. “This is the ship Temptation, over.”

The lights off the stern were getting closer; another roar reverberated through my feet. “What do we do if they don’t answer?”

Kashmir made a face. “We could throw them overboard.”

“The drugs?”

“The tigers.”

“New York Coast Guard,” Slate repeated. His brow shone with sweat. “This is the ship Temptation, over.”

No answer, and the lights grew closer still. “Captain—”

Slate swore and dropped the radio to the deck, striding toward the helm. “Bring me a map, Nix!”

“What map?”

“Any map!”

“But—”

“Nix!”

The speaker crackled then; we both froze. “The Temptation, this is the New York Coast Guard, please switch to channel sixty-six, over.”

Kashmir scooped the radio off the deck and handed it to the captain. “New York Coast Guard, this is the Temptation, switching to channel sixty-six, over.” Slate did so, the speaker still hissing softly.

“The Temptation, this is the New York Coast Guard.” The accent was pure Brooklyn. “Slate?”

“Yes.” It was almost a sigh of relief. “This is Slate. Is this Bruce? Over.”

“This is Bruce. We got a call reporting suspicious activity.” Bruce gave a bark of a laugh, making the speaker crackle. “Thought it might be you, over.”

“A black pirate ship always scares the yachters, Bruce. Never thought she’d worry the Coast Guard.”

“Worried? Nah, they just want to visit with you,” Bruce said. “The Eagle’s got our newest cadet on board. My nephew. Never been on a tall ship. Would you mind showing him the ropes?”

“Ah.” Slate took a breath, his eyes roaming across the deck, over the sea, to the boat approaching. “I’d love to, Bruce, but, uh—” His eyes fell on me. “But we’re a little busy. It’s my daughter’s birthday. We’re having a party and everything. Over.”

My eyebrows went up. “My birthday?”

“Oh, man, your daughter? What is she now, fourteen?”

I shook my head, but he wasn’t paying attention.

Slate’s brow furrowed. “Yeah . . . ?”

“Dangerous age, Captain.” Kashmir snorted.

“Hey, don’t let me interrupt the festivities,” Bruce continued. “Say happy birthday for me. I’ll tell the boy he’s gotta wait. Probably for the best, he’s a handsome kid. Welcome home, over.”

“Bruce, thanks, over and out.”

“Yeah, thanks, Bruce,” I said under my breath.

Slate shut off the radio. It was only another few seconds before the ship behind us slowed and changed course. I pushed my hair out of my face and watched their lights fade. Slate dropped the radio on the deck and dragged his hands down his jaw.

“Finally a bit of luck, amira,” Kashmir said with a half grin.

I grimaced. “Only a bit, though.”

“Yes, too bad about the handsome nephew.”

“Why?” I said. “You were hoping for a pretty niece?”

He winked at me, but not even teasing Kashmir could lift my mood. We were nearing the Hamptons now, and no closer to our destination. In fact, the tigers prevented us from getting into the harbor at all; Bruce, who Slate never failed to bribe with good liquor when he got the chance, might be able to call off the Coast Guard, but the harbormasters would notice the roaring as soon as we tied up to the dock.

“Nixie.”

I turned. Slate had retaken the wheel, and he hadn’t relaxed. “What?” I said, although I knew what he was going to say.

“I need you.” His voice was soft, pleading. “I need your help. I can’t miss that auction. I have to have that map. Please.”

I kept my face stony, but the guilt in me was rising like a tide. I’d chosen the wrong map, I’d plotted the wrong course: mistake after mistake after mistake, all the way back to the start. “I’ll check again. Maybe there’s something I missed the first time.”

“Not likely,” Kashmir said, winding his pocket watch.

“I appreciate your confidence,” I said in a flat tone. “Wait a minute.” I grabbed for the watch and missed. He was much quicker than I. “Let me see that.”

Once I asked, he handed it over without a fuss. The watch was three inches across, a triple-case gold repoussé design of Adam and Eve in paradise, and it was heavier than it looked. On the back there was the signature, even a serial number—and of course, it was in exceptional condition for its age, in spite of its dunking. I pressed my lips together. After scolding him for taking it, the hypocrisy stung . . . but it was worth twice what I would have gotten for the tigers.

Kashmir inclined his head; he understood. “What’s mine is yours, amira.”

I leaned into him, resting my temple on his shoulder in a gesture of thanks. Then I straightened. “Captain?”

“What?”

I tossed the watch to Slate, who caught it and held it up to the light. “I’m sixteen.”

“Right,” he said absently, studying the watch. Then his eyes widened. “Oh!” He closed his fingers around the watch and kissed it. His knees sagged and he leaned against the wheel, laughing.

“Easy come, easy go,” Kashmir said. Another indignant roar drifted up from below; he rolled his eyes. “Well, most of the time.”

“Why are the tigers so restless?” I nodded toward the captain, who was opening and closing the watch case, delighted. “I know for a fact we’re not out of opium.”

“No, amira, but we’re out of meat. I’ve fed them every last scrap on the ship.”

Rotgut’s head whipped around, the thin braid of his beard flying in the wind. “You gave them everything in the galley?”

“And the bag of jerky from under your mattress.”

“Thief!” Rotgut scowled.

Kashmir grinned at him. “Glutton.”

Rotgut swore in Chinese. Kash responded in Farsi—and Bee interrupted with a jangle of the bell she wore. “Settle down,” she said in her quiet whisper, her brown eyes sparkling. “You’re both right.”

“So,” Kash said to me. “Where can we leave the tigers?”

“Leave them?” Rotgut straightened up. “Why leave them?”

I cocked my head. “What else do you want to do with them?”

“Kash just said we’re out of meat.”

I couldn’t help but laugh at his joke. At least, I hoped it was a joke.

“We’re not eating them,” Slate said. “Christ.” He turned the wheel and pointed us toward the dark shoreline. “We’ll drop them off ashore.”

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