Excerpt of The Tales of Sinner Sharpe: Dark Waters

I don't think I've shown the excerpt I have of Sinner Sharpe on this blog before, so here it is: 

Recruitment

 

“We’re gonna need more men, Sin,” the man aptly called Dagger said to me in his deep voice.

As he stared at me, his dark eyes alive with the stirrings of excitement, I felt it myself: There was only one thing to do when we received a job, and that meant taking on a lot of new names...killing the old ones...or at least, the ones that didn’t get along too well with my idea of when to work and when to play, and when those two things were in fact one in the same.

I tapped a finger against the wood of the table we sat around and tried to disguise my own excitement underneath a smooth surface of clear-headedness. Dagger would have it no other way.

“I saw a few of those Fireguard boys walking around before we came here,” I said, thinking back to the sight of the young men walking around with their helmets falling over their eyes. I grimaced as I rethought their importance.

Dagger seemed to be thinking the same thing for he quickly said, “The Fireguard grows privileged babies, not mercenaries...assassins. We need men...men like....” And his eyes roved behind me as the door to the small dirty inn opened.

As I turned in my seat to watch the newcomers allow the warm night air of Battle Bay Port to enter the dry air of the place, I saw that several dirt-strewn, sea-worn men were entering through the battered door. Along their chests remained the emblem for their group, or sect, or whatever one called it nowadays, a simple one if I ever saw it: the shadow of a dagger stitched to their black shirts.

As the men entered completely and the door closed behind them, I turned back to Dagger, desiring to see his thoughts on these men. He wasn’t looking at me, he still looked over my head, staring, well, daggers, upon the men as they took their seats around a particularly large table in the center of the room.

“Dag,” I grunted, fighting the urge to punch his arm. Damn man wouldn’t tear his eyes off a new prospect – if he thought they were good enough for Assassins of Sin – unless I cut his eyes out. He was like that. If he thought they’d make good men to work with, he’d do all he could – work his magic – so that they were onboard. But just the same, if it turned out those men were ne’er do wells, well...he took just as much pleasure in running his infamous daggers across their throats. I couldn’t say I didn’t approve of his methods – he’d learned them from me in the first place.

“Dagger!” I said, stomping my boot against the old floorboards. The particular slam the metal heel made, made the man come around. He was glaring daggers on me now; I’d incurred the wrath of interrupting him when he was busy ‘scouting’ as he called it. I didn’t work that way – I’d much rather see the men I’d have on my ship in combat. A few sly glances before I’d even talked to them wouldn’t do much to show me how they moved when the pressure was on.

“The devil, Sinner!” Uh-oh. I’d incurred his wrath, indeed. He never called me ‘Sinner’ unless he was real steamed. “You know I was scouting – what’s so goddamned important?!” he whispered harshly, his rancid breath drifting quickly to my nose.

My nostrils flared as I fought the smell. All the same, I leaned back some in my chair, and was surprised when the matron came ‘round to offer me another drink. I shook her off: Sinner Sharpe didn’t drink when he was on the job...much, that is. I like to think I have a code that I follow...until I draw first blood on my target...then any fantasy of ethics I lie to myself about goes clear out of the window. I wasn’t called Sinner for nothing.

As she walked off, her behind swinging playfully as she moved, I stared for a bit before turning back to Dagger who still looked livid: His brown eyes wouldn’t leave my face even as the matron approached, and Dagger loved him some women. It was a testament to the way his black bandage pushed the rest of his dark brown hair out of the way now that I knew he was all business.

Normally, the man’s hair is falling over his face as long as it is, when he pushes that bandage to force his hair back, he wants you to understand that he’s deadly serious – and daggers usually start flying when he is.

“What’s your thoughts on ‘em?” I asked in my business-like tone. I was interested, more than anything, to see what Dagger had to say about the newcomers.

His features softened some, though the immense five o’clock shadow he was sporting did nothing to soften the roughness of his face: He was a man who killed rough, lived rough, enjoyed his woman rough (so I’d heard), and hoped to die in some manner of a rough fashion. With Dagger, there was no compromise...it was either you lived and joined our band of merry men, or you died. And he didn’t have a problem making that choice for you if you couldn’t do it for yourself.

Ah, Dagger was nothing like me.

He rubbed his beard with a dirty hand, though it wasn’t thoughtfully. It looked liked he had an itch there he didn’t feel like scratching. He’d long made up his mind, I could tell by the way he wasn’t staring at the men over my shoulder anymore.

“They’re mercenaries...fancy themselves cutthroats...haven’t seen much work – I’d say they’re brand new. One or two I’m not so sure about, Sin...but the rest – about three of ‘em I think I can...persuade to join us for this job.”

I didn’t look over my shoulder to see who he was talking about...the time for that would come soon enough.

“Do we break them in now or do we wait another day?” I asked, more to myself than to him, though I wasn’t so sure we really had another day to spare.

He mimicked me and leaned back in his own seat, his body relaxed now as he finished his stale drink: Business was over. He shrugged while saying, “We can do it later on tonight...I’ll have the others set it up. You won’t have to do a thing, Cap’n.”

I felt my eyes hardened in their sockets. He seemed to realize what he’d said too late, for the look on his face mirrored seeing the dead rise from the ground. Immediately his mouth opened and he fumbled around with a sad excuse for an apology.

Too late.

I rose from my chair, not caring that its balance was seriously off, causing it to floor to the floor with a plop. I felt all eyes upon me as I stood, but I only had eyes for Dagger.

“You just assured I’d do everything tonight, Dag,” I said quietly.

The shock on his face of what he’d said was still there. I didn’t expect it to leave so soon.

“Now wait, Sin...you don’t have to—”

“But it wouldn’t be my group if I didn’t,” I cut across him. And just like that, the leeway was gone. I’d given Dagger the freedom to do as he pleased tonight and most nights...after all, he was my first recruit, the first I’d found who needed a fresh start.... But there was one rule that my men knew to never break.

And it was a simple one...but how often lowered guards created free tongues. I was still the captain of The Bloody Sinner, my pride and joy, and I was still this man’s leader...and I’d grown careless for a moment, yes, I did. I could admit that now. It was the drink I’d had, the jokes of women past we’d shared....

But when it came to work. Well, Sinner Sharpe had his hands on every transaction, had his blade in every mark before the payer got tired of waiting, yes, I was a master at what I did...whatever it happened to be. And I liked to be hands on, myself. I learned not to trust the men I recruit. Of course, Dagger is the one exception, his...talents are nowhere near mine, but they are just as fun to watch...but I liked to do things for myself, liked to...persuade...the men myself if I could help it, and whereas Dagger would just threaten with a knife and kill without another thought, I reveled in the torture of it all.

I was not so beyond myself that I wouldn’t call myself a sick, twisted bastard. It was just who I was. I lived for this kind of life – I get paid to kill. And I do it well.

But for this particular job I needed a bigger crew. I was hired to take down some prince in some land to the north. The smaller details I’d penned in my Black Book, the more important things – price for example – I’d remembered with ease.

We were getting nearly a million pieces of gold for this job – plus whatever we could get our hands on on the way there and inside the prince’s estate. Yes, this job was the job of a lifetime...which was why we needed the crew of a lifetime to tag along. The more hands that could take out guards here and there to assure my smooth entrance into the prince’s home, the better.

Hell, for all the trouble this prince was putting me through, I’d torture him real slow. There’d be no other way to do it after this: I was getting my hands dirty before I’d even set sail. It was not something I normally did, not when I had Dagger around, but after Dagger’s slip up...well my hand had been forced.

Let Sinner Sharpe sit on his ass and do nothing? Nah, I couldn’t let that come to pass.

If Dagger thought these men were just what we needed, then I’d make sure they were...if they didn’t die first.

He seemed to know where my mind was, for he stood just as quickly and said, “I t-take it back, Sin. I’ll take care of them.”

“I’m already standing, Dag,” I said, pulling my sharply crafted dagger out from its leather strap at my side. Before he could say another word I was moving toward  the table where the men all sat, and as I approached, they eyed me with a mixture of trepidation and bemusement.

Placing the dagger on the table without a word, I leaned in and placed my hands on the table, sure to keep my voice smooth as I asked, “What brings you men to Battle Port Bay?”

Not a one opened their mouth to respond, but I did not relinquish my stare.

And it was clear no one would speak. About several minutes passed before anyone made an utterance, and it was a big-eyed bastard right next to me that did so. Son of a bitch coughed.

Ignoring the bits of phlegm and spit that flew onto my hand, I let a stirring of harsh words settle in my throat, before I spoke. “I’m looking for men for a little job. The pay is handsome enough but you won’t be promised your lives.” This clearly got their attention for the slew of ‘em started to squirm interestedly in their seats.

“What’s this job?” one fresh-faced individual barked over his cup.

I stared at him for a long moment, trying to decide if he was just that stupid or if he truly had no idea what to ask when a man offered a job.

As I stared into his baby blue eyes I decided it had to be the latter. Well shit, these men were new to this life after all.

I forced myself to keep my eyes off Dagger as I rethought their significance. Aw hell, it couldn’t hurt to train ‘em – show them the ropes, and as I eyed the way they sat in their chairs, some ready for a fight, others waiting with bated breath to hear my next words, I figured I didn’t have much to lose in taking them on.

After all, who’s counting a million gold pieces?

The dagger under my spit-covered hand felt real cold – always a good sign. I pressed a finger against the silver blade and allowed my mind to cool. I could feel it in my bones, then.

As I stared around at the wide-eyed, bemused expressions of the men before me, I knew It had started.

And once It starts, damn, Dagger’ll tell ya, there just ain’t no going back.

©S.C. Parris