“Dead or alive?” I asked him.
“Alive. They can live out of water for a day or two, as long as they’re not in the sun. Their skin’s not suited to the sun as they live deep in the sea.”
“How’d you catch it? They look huge.”
“Bigger’n you or me. The males, anyway. The females are smaller. That’s what I got down there. A female. She got caught in a net. I’m taking her to the villagers on that island. They’ll sell the tail, dried to a powder, for mixing up in medicines. I’ve seen too much of these fish people to believe the tail is a cure for anything, but the landfolk don’t know that,” he winked at me. ”I’ll get real good money for that critter in the hold.”
I was appalled at the whole idea. Even if they were half fish, the other half looked like you and me.
“I’d like to see it up close.”
He nodded and waved at the metal stairs, “Not too close, I warn you. That tail might not look like much but it’s big enough to knock you out and sharp enough to slice you up. So stand way back.”
I moved toward the dark hole that Harcourt and I had climbed out of only a couple of hours earlier, the unlit pit where I’d smelled a strong odor of fish.
“Take a lamp,” Jurg yelled after me. “And don’t listen to the noise it makes. That noise can lure boats onto the rocks and men to their deaths.”
Harcourt handed me a lamp as I hesitated at the top of the steps. “Coming with me?” I asked him.
He shook his head and glanced up toward the telescope. His obsession was somewhere else.
Watch out for the tail. Watch out for the tail. Each word for each step as I went down. I held up the lamp and looked around. The boat was small and the hold was a lot smaller. I saw something bright and damp move under the steps and I raised the lamp.
Skin as white as fresh snow. Hair like silver. She was the most beautiful thing I‘d ever seen. And she was headed for a cruel death. “Do you know?” I whispered, moving closer, “what they will do?”
She made no sound, but smiled and rose up on the end of her tail, unsteady, swaying. Without thinking I reached for her to keep her from falling. A warm body in my arms, warm breath on my face. I guess I expected her to be as cold and unpleasant to touch as a fish. I was so wrong.
“Not you,” I said softly. “Not this time. We must hurry. I hear his boots on the steps to the cabin roof.”
Please, Harcourt, I thought, keep him busy. I carried her up to the deck.
With only one glance around us I started to heave her over the rail to the water. She suddenly twisted in my arms, resisting me.
“No, no,” I whispered. “Go now. Quickly.” But I misunderstood her intent and in the next instant found her lips pressed hot on mine.
Then she was gone with hardly a noise made as she dove into the waves. I stared at the water sliding past the hull and touched my fingers to my lips. Wow, I thought. Should I tell Kate about that?
In the next moment a powerful blow to my back knocked me to my knees. It was followed immediately by a kick to the head that knocked me out. But just before that foul smelling boot hit my skull I heard him say, “So I sells you instead.”Next chapter