Authors: Heidi Heilig
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
Advance Reader’s e-proof
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
for whom I first wanted to go back
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MAP TO COME
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
t was the kind of August day that hinted at monsoons, and the year was 1774, though not for very much longer. I was in the crowded bazaar of a nearly historical version of Calcutta, where my father had abandoned me.
He hadn’t abandoned me for good—not yet. He’d only gone back to the ship to make ready for the next leg of the journey: twentieth-century New York City. It was at our final destination, however, where he hoped to unmake the mistakes of his past.
Mistakes like me, perhaps.
He never said as much, but his willingness to leave me behind was plain: here I was, alone, haggling for a caladrius with a pitiful amount of silver in my palm. Part of me wondered whether he’d care if I returned at all, as long as the mythological bird was delivered to the ship.
No, he would care, at least for
. After all, I was the one to plot our way through the centuries and the maps, the one who helped him through his dark times, the one who could, say, identify fantastical animals from twenty paces
negotiate with their sellers. Then again, once we reached 1868 Honolulu, he would have no need for navigating or negotiation. I was a means to an end, and the end was looming, closer every day.
But he never worried about that. I tried not to either; I tried desperately hard. Worrying did me no good, especially now, with the bird seller peering at me, as bright-eyed as any of his wares.
“Very rare, this bird!” The merchant spoke louder than the distance between us warranted; we were nose to nose across a stack of cages, but I couldn’t step back or I’d be swept up in the scrum of shoppers. “The caladrius will cure any illness, just by looking a patient in the eye—”
“I know, I know.” I’d read the myth in an old book of fables: the caladrius could take disease on its wings and burn it away by flying near the sun. The legend also said if your illness was incurable, the bird would refuse to look at you; of course the merchant hadn’t mentioned that part.
He crossed his arms over his chest. “Good health is priceless, girl.”
“I know that too.” I wiped my brow. The sun was panting in the sky, and the heat curdled the perfume of jasmine above the odor of sweat. I had to get back to the ship, if only for some air. “Please. It’s for my mother. She’ll die without it.” Normally I wasn’t above using a sob story to haggle, but it felt different when the story was true. In fact, she had already died without it, sixteen years ago. “My father would never, ever recover.”
The man’s eyes softened, but then the crowd crushed against my back, making space around a fat British officer; locals didn’t dare jostle the Company Raj. Distracted, the bird seller glared at the Englishman. “Please,” I said again, slightly louder, trying to add the gleam of charity to the tarnished rupees in my hand.
He sucked his teeth, wavering. “A bird like this is worth her weight in gold to a prince.”
“But the princes of India don’t have any more gold,” I said. “The British took it all, and they don’t believe in the myth of the caladrius.”
As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew it was the wrong thing to say. The man’s face hardened. Awkward, awkward. I scrambled for a way to backpedal. Between us, his wares beat their wings against the bamboo
bars, singing for freedom like Orpheus in Hades. A hand touched my shoulder and I spun, ready to take out my vexation on this bold stranger, but I bit back the words. Kashmir had appeared like an oasis. “Hello,
“Let me guess,” I said. “The captain sent you here to rush me.” Under his careless hair, there was not a drop of sweat on his brow.
“To help you.” He gave me his most charming smile, then turned it on the bird seller as he poured gold into the man’s palm. “This should be more than enough,” Kashmir said, reaching over to pluck up the bamboo cage. Then he slipped his arm into mine and steered me away from the wide-eyed merchant. “Come, Nix. We have to go.”
I was more surprised than the bird seller. “Where did you get so much gold?”
“Oh, you know,” he said. “Around.”
We were halfway back to the docks when the shouting started.
Kashmir handed me the birdcage. “Don’t run,” he told me. Then he took off.
“Thief!” The Englishman was barreling toward us. “Thief!” Kashmir had left a swirling wake in the crowd; I set off after him.
The treacherous street threw obstacles underfoot: baskets of locusts and pails of yogurt and blankets laid with ripe rambutan. I dodged past women in rags and women in silks, men in loincloths and men in uniforms. The birdcage swung from my fist and sweat stung my eyes. Kashmir was far ahead of me—or rather, I was falling behind.
I wracked my brain for a solution from the stories I knew. Unfortunately, most of those stories were myths, so most of the miraculous escapes came about by the pursued being turned into a tree or a star or a bird or the like. I looked back over my shoulder; the Englishman was gaining. I clutched the birdcage to my chest and tried to summon more speed.
I broke free of the market, careening around a corner and bouncing off a donkey. Kashmir was standing on the wharf, waving me toward the ship. I skidded to a stop in front of him, and he took my shoulders, steadying me. “Why did you run,
run?” I returned, breathless.
“So he would chase me!
Get aboard and go!” He pushed me along and I stumbled down the quay.
My father was helping Bee rig the sails, but when he heard the Englishman’s cries, he stopped and stared. Then he redoubled his efforts, calling out to Rotgut to cast off the
lines as the Englishman loped nearer. Locals scattered, but Kashmir waited until I’d cleared the gangplank. When he started to run, it was too late.
The Englishman grabbed him by the collar of his thin linen shirt, his muttonchops quivering in rage. “You half-caste thatch gallows!” He drew a pistol out of his belt and pressed the barrel against Kashmir’s cheek. “Give me back my coin and I won’t shoot you where you stand!”
Kash didn’t bother responding; he made a chopping motion toward the ship, but we were already slipping the berth. I looked at my father in disbelief, but he met my stare with his ice-blue eyes. “He can take care of himself.”
Despite the heat, I shivered; if Kash had kept the caladrius, would I be the one left behind on the wharf? I set the birdcage on the deck and gripped the rail, gauging the distance to the pier, but then Kash shoved the Englishman’s gun upward. The man squeezed the trigger, and the bullet flew wide. He’d kept his grip on Kashmir’s collar, but not on Kashmir, who tore his shirt down the front as he pivoted on one foot and threw his arms back out of the sleeves. He left the man reeling backward with the linen rag in his hand and a bewildered expression on his face.
I ran to get a rope, but when I came back to the bulwark,
Kashmir was nowhere to be seen and the Englishman was screaming from the edge of the pier, fumbling with his gun. I followed his outraged eyes to the stern of the ship, where Kash was swinging his leg over the rail.
“Stop the ship! Stop at once!” the Englishman said, appealing to my father as he tried to reload. “Your coolie is a thief!”
Kashmir put his hand to his chest in a gesture of injured innocence: Kashmir, who would make you laugh to steal the fillings from your molars. Then he ducked as the Englishman fired again, the bullet crunching into the oak of our mizzenmast. I stared, stunned for a moment, then dropped to the deck beside the birdcage, my breath ruffling the caladrius’s feathers.
was a fast ship, so we were out of range by the time the Englishman had loaded a third shot. I clambered to my feet, my hair plastered to my cheeks and my ears ringing. Kashmir was no worse for wear, despite his lost shirt. His golden skin shone, flushed with exertion, and, I suppose, victory. He caught my eye, and I turned away.
“You’re blushing,” he said.
I heard the amusement in his voice. “It’s the heat.”
“What a rush!” My father passed the wheel off to Bee and came trotting down the stairs to the main deck. He
picked up the cage, peering inside. “My God, she’s beautiful,” he said, grinning. “Thanks, kiddo!”
“Thanks?” I yanked my shirt straight. “You should be thanking him.”
Slate popped a thumb up. “Thanks, Kashmir!”
I stared at him as he cooed at the bird. “You risked his life for that thing.”
“He was nearly shot, Dad!”
He shrugged. “He wasn’t, though.”
“But he could have been!”
His energy faltered for a moment, like a candle burning low. Absently, he rolled up one of the sleeves on his loose cotton shirt, exposing the blue ink crawling up his arms; unless you knew where they were, the tracks were very hard to see beneath his indigo tattoos. Then his grin returned as he nodded to the cage in his hand. “Good thing we have a cure-all, then. Come on, let’s fill those sails! Where are we going next, Nixie?”
I wanted to tell him exactly where he could go next, but I bit back the retort. This was nothing new; my father wasn’t one to reflect long on his transgressions. He left that to me. “New York, 1981,” I said. “I laid the map out this morning.
On your table. Didn’t you bother to look?”
He ignored my question. “But . . . every twentieth-century map I’ve ever seen was off a printing press.”
“It’s a hobbyist’s map. Hand drawn.” I drew myself up taller. “I bought it myself last time we were there.”
He didn’t look impressed. “Fine, great. But are you sure it will work?”
“Making it work is
job, Captain,” I said. “Until you teach me how to Navigate, of course.”
Although he made no answer, he stared at me a while longer before he spun on his heel and went to his cabin. Suddenly I was aware of the eyes of the crew, but when I turned around, Bee seemed very interested in the river ahead, and Rotgut was studiously cleaning his fingernails. Only Kashmir caught my eye. “And
,” I said.
“Me? What did I do,
“I was this close to getting the bird seller to take my price,” I said, but his grin widened; I wasn’t fooling him.
“Even if that’s true, you said it yourself. The English took all the gold. I was just doing a little redistribution.”
“It’s still wrong to steal, Kashmir.”
“What else should I have done?”
“Maybe leave the bird?”
He looked at me sideways with a twinkle in his eye. “Come,
. You were thrilled when I put it in your hands.”
“That’s because cure-alls are rare in mythology, outside of healing springs. Not because I think we’ll actually get to use it.”
“The captain thinks we will. And you know how he is.”
“And how is that?”
Kashmir pursed his lips. “Very difficult to refuse.”
I folded my arms across my chest. “No argument there,” I said softly, staring at the water of the Hooghly. It was the color of bile. “Is the cargo secure?”
“You mean the tigers?” There was a lilt in his voice.
“Yes, the tigers, in all their fearful symmetry.” The big cats had been delivered to the ship in flimsy bamboo cages; Kash and Bee had been the ones brave enough to wrestle the cages into the hold. I actually was impressed, but with Kashmir it was usually best not to let it show.
“Last I checked, they were sleeping like kittens,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a gold watch to check the time. Then he tilted it; water ran out from under the face. “Well. They should be fine all the way to New York.”
“Where did you get that?”
“Ah. This?” He looked at me from under his brows; if I hadn’t known better, I’d have said he was embarrassed. “He
shouldn’t have called me a half-caste.”
I gritted my teeth. “You can’t blame that on the captain’s orders.”
“No, I can’t. This was just for me.”
“You know, if I had your morals, I could solve all my problems.”
He shrugged one shoulder and slipped the watch back into his pocket. “If I had your problems, I could afford to have better morals. I’m going to get another shirt. You have ten seconds to stop me. No?”
He went below, leaving me at the bow. We sailed past the tumbled ruin of Fort William, where the East India Company claimed a hundred English prisoners had perished due to Indian savagery in the dungeon called the Black Hole of Calcutta. Downstream of the city, fishermen pulled
from the turgid river and children swam naked at the
. I piled my hair atop my head in an effort to cool down, but the breeze licked the back of my neck, hot as a giant’s breath.
Kashmir was right about the captain; when he wanted something, he did not stop until he had it. No matter what it cost. No matter who it hurt.
And what he wanted more than anything was to return
to Honolulu, 1868. That’s why he needed the map now on offer at Christie’s auction house, and the money to win it.
The captain had never bothered investing in stocks, or betting on sports, or even opening a checking account. Slate spent much more time thinking about the past than the future, and it was always a scramble for money whenever he remembered it was useful.
So I’d plotted a route, pulling the maps from his collection. Cash for tigers was not the simplest course I might have charted, but I’d wanted to see as much as I could before the auction. After all, if Slate was right about the map of Hawaii, I might never go anywhere else again.
My mind skittered away from the thought. It was pointless—no, foolish to worry; none of his Honolulu maps had ever worked. Better to concentrate on the task—and the journey—at hand.
As it was, I planned to exchange our cargo for U.S. currency when we reached our next destination, where the leader of a Chinese gang had a soft spot in his heart—and cold hard cash in his pocket—for the big cats. According to the newspaper clippings I’d read, he’d been known for using them to dispose of rivals.
After that, Slate could easily bring us to the auction in
2016; fifty-one years prior, the captain had been born in New York, and his erstwhile home awaited him just beyond the edge of every map he Navigated. The year 2016 was long after the gang leader had been killed in a shoot-out, but with the map from 1981, it should have been a simple matter for the captain to steer the
through two centuries, from the Bay of Bengal to the waters of the Atlantic off the coast of Long Island. After all, though he wouldn’t call it home, he knew the city well.
Which is why it surprised me when the map of 1981 failed.
We were sailing toward the edge of the map of Calcutta under a sky so starry it looked sugared; the night would never be as beautiful after the Industrial Revolution.
Those stars dimmed as we slipped into the Margins of the map, the slender threshold between one place and the next, where India in 1774 ran out and the next shore appeared. Mist rose around us like the souls of drowned sailors, and the only sound was the muted hollow music of waves moving along the hull. Everything seemed calm, but the seas in the Margins were unpredictable—the currents mercurial and the winds erratic—and passage was always rougher the farther afield we traveled. And, very rarely, there were ghost ships in the fog,
captained by those who had found the way in, but not the way out. I rubbed some warmth into my bare arms.
“Are you all right,
I made a face and nodded toward the mist. “The Margins always reminds me of purgatory. The place between worlds.”
Kashmir’s brow wrinkled. “Isn’t purgatory supposed to be hotter?”
“That’s St. Augustine’s version. This is more like the Asphodel Meadows in Homer. Although with fewer bloodthirsty ghosts.”
Kashmir laughed. “Ah, yes, of course. I must catch up on my reading.”
“Well, I’m sure you know where my books are if you ever want to steal them.” I grinned as I turned back to the helm; just as quickly, the smile fell away. Slate had taken the wheel to steer us toward the far-off shore only he could see . . . but his face was full of frustration. He swung his head back and forth, he gripped the wheel, he leaned forward as if to get a closer look—but it was clear he couldn’t see our destination.
The ship rolled on the swells, and bronze light flickered in the fog, followed by the low grumble of thunder. Rain pelted the sails and the mist writhed in a sudden gust. In the crow’s nest above our heads, Rotgut cursed; he must have
been swaying like a metronome.
New York should not have been difficult, not like this. “What’s wrong, Captain?”
“I don’t know!” Slate wrenched the wheel starboard, trying to take us around, but the waves were pushing hard to port. Near the prow, Bee tensioned the halyard on the jib, the bell at her waist swinging as she moved.
groaned, and the ship shuddered as a swell hit, followed by another high enough to send spray over the rail. Kashmir caught my arm and pulled me close to the mast. I held on, keeping clear of the boom; my fingers found the rough splinters of the bullet hole. A breaker washed the deck, the cold sea soaking my feet.
“Slow down,” Slate said. “I need more time!”
Kashmir sprang into action, racing up the stairs to the quarterdeck and grabbing the sea anchor. I followed on his heels and helped heave it off the stern. As the canvas caught our wake and dragged, another swell hit broadside and jolted us hard enough to rattle my teeth. This time Kashmir stumbled; I took his hand and grabbed the rail, bracing for the next wave, but it never came. The sea stilled once more as we ran right off the edge of the map.
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
MAP TO COME
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
he black water faded to blue, and I blinked in the sudden light of dawn—no, sunset. A breeze snapped in the netting and swirled through the mist, pulling it aside like a curtain to reveal, in the distance, the glittering glass skyline of New York City. The twin towers were nowhere to be seen—this was not the eighties, but I didn’t need to see the shore to know it. The captain swore and slammed his fist down on the wheel, stalking away and back, pacing like a tiger himself. This was Slate’s native time and place: late May 2016, within sight of the southern tip of Manhattan.
This was also where the auction would be held, in three days’ time, whether or not we had the money to win it.
Little bubbles of hope, like sea foam in my stomach. If we missed the auction because he failed to Navigate, it
would be his fault, not mine. And I would be safe, at least for a little while longer.
The dark sea had calmed, and we floated like a leaf on a pond. I peeled my fingers off the rail, and off Kashmir’s wrist. He glanced at me, but I spread my hands. “The map looked fine to me,” I said, my voice soft, but the captain whirled around as though I had shouted an accusation.
“Maybe you didn’t look hard enough,” he said.
I met his eyes. “Hand drawn. Good detail. Dated. And new to us,” I said, ticking the four points off on my fingers. No matter how detailed a map, once we’d visited, we couldn’t go back, and Slate didn’t always remember where he’d been or what he’d done. Still, I’d only just bought the map, so I knew for certain he’d never used it.
“And yet it’s a dead ender!”
“So what went wrong?”
He snorted. “Nice try, Nixie.”
I threw my hand in the air. “Figure it out yourself, then.”
“You sure you don’t have any ideas?” the captain said, taking a slow step toward me, then another. “I know you’ve been nervous about going to Honolulu.”
His doubt stung. I knew my worth lay in my abilities, my knowledge, the way I could chart a course. Without that, I
was little more than ballast. I felt my face redden; out of the corner of my eye, I saw Bee and Kashmir watching. “Don’t blame me for your failures, Slate.”
He glared at me another moment, then returned to the wheel, gritting his teeth and squeezing with white knuckles as though willing us into the right decade. But to no avail. The fog did not rise, the wind did not drop, and the shoreline stayed stubbornly constant.
Bee approached me so I could hear her soft question; sweat or sea spray gleamed on her scarred brow. “If 1981 won’t work, do you know another map to try? One where we can trade tigers for dollars?”
I pressed my fingers to my temple, trying to call up everything I’d ever read; not an easy task. “I suppose . . . someone in Rome might buy them for the Colosseum, but even if the captain could go back that far, we’d probably lose money overall.”
Slate threw me a disapproving look. “On top of it being inhumane.”
“As opposed to selling them to the yakuza in Chinatown?” Kashmir said with a grin.
“If a man kills a tiger, that’s inhumane,” Slate muttered. “If a tiger kills a man, that’s just inhuman.”
“The gang was the White Tigers, actually,” I said. “The yakuza are Japanese.”
“What’s the currency in ancient Rome,
? Is it gold?”
“Not most of it,” I said. “But the coins themselves are quite valuable.”
“We’d have to find a new buyer,” Slate reminded me. “My coin guy died two years ago.”
“How hard could that be?” I said.
“The auction’s on my timeline,” the captain said. “We’ve only got three days.”
“Two now,” Kashmir corrected him.
“Then you think of something!” I glared at them both.
A roar drifted up from the hold; it was a curious sound, like whale song. The captain swore again and left the helm, jogging down the stairs from the quarterdeck and into his cabin, slamming the door behind him. I ran my hands through my hair. As first mate, Bee took his place, but for a moment, my fingers itched to take the wheel. Could I do what the captain had not?
“You didn’t do anything?” Kashmir said to me.
“To the map.”
I blinked. “No! If I had a mind to sabotage a map, there are better candidates.”
“Ah.” He leaned against the rail, tilting his head to study me. “So,” he said. “What makes you nervous about Honolulu?”
Turning to face the water, I frowned at the waves. “It’s complicated.”
“I haven’t got anywhere else to be.”
My fingers tapped an idle beat on the metal rail; the brass was cool under my palms. Kashmir was the only person aboard the ship who did not know every detail of the circumstances of my birth, and I was reluctant to surrender the strange, small bliss I had in his ignorance. Kash was the most confident person I knew; would he even understand how scared I was? Or worse—might he fear for me, too? Still, at this juncture, even if I didn’t tell him, he would know soon enough. But how to explain? I’d never told the story before.
Startled by Rotgut’s shout from the crow’s nest, I followed his skinny finger to the lights in the distance; a sleek white boat on the water, far off, but coming toward us.
“What is it?” I called up.
I stared at the boat for a long moment, trying to convince myself it wasn’t headed our way—until another roar echoed in the hold. Then I ran to knock on the captain’s door, hard, though I counted to ten before opening it.
Even so, Slate looked surprised to see me. I met his eyes, deliberately not glancing at the box in his hands, the box he normally kept under his bed. It wasn’t worth telling him to hide it; if we were boarded, it would be harder to explain the tigers than to explain his stash of opium. “We need you on the radio,” I told him.
His fingers tightened on the box. “It might help the map to work.”
, captain.” I shut the door behind me, harder than I had to.
Back on deck, Bee was taking the ship around while Kash raised the sails. We were moving again, plowing the waves, heading east along the southern coast of Long Island. I grabbed the halyard, helping Kash with the sail as I watched the lights of the boat off our stern, closer now and gaining.
According to Slate, the Coast Guard in New York had always been a pain, but much worse, of course, since 2001, far nosier and almost impossible to bribe. Nothing like the eighties, in the uncivilized city of my father’s youth. To make
it worse, the Coast Guard was full of people who loved boats, and they couldn’t keep their hands off the
She was a striking caravel, her black hull copper clad below the waterline to keep out worms (and worse, depending on what waters we traveled). She rode on a keel fashioned from what looked like the rib of a leviathan, carved with labyrinthine runes from stem to stern, and at the prow, a red-haired mermaid bared her breasts to calm the sea.
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
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
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.”
“New York Coast Guard,” Slate repeated. His brow shone with sweat. “This is the ship
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!”
The speaker crackled then; we both froze. “The
, 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
, switching to channel sixty-six, over.” Slate did so, the speaker still hissing softly.
, 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
’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,
,” 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.
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,
I leaned into him, resting my temple on his shoulder in a gesture of thanks. Then I straightened. “Captain?”
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.”
, 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?”
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.”
“What? Just—just drop them off? Where?”
He grinned at me. “That is an excellent question!”
“Fine.” I stared upward, trying to think. No stars here; the sky was the flat navy of a city night. “Okay. Just a minute.” I jogged below to my cabin. My cell phone was still in the back pocket of the jeans I’d worn the last time we were in New York. I’d prepaid for twenty dollars’ worth of data then, definitely enough for a few Google searches. I powered it on as I returned topside. “Rotgut?”
“Can you get a line in the water? And Kash, we should run dark for this. Will you take in the lanterns?”
“And what will you be doing?” Kashmir nudged me as he sauntered past, toward the bow.
“I’m looking up the local donor list for the Friends of the Bronx Zoo.”
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
e left the tigers in the Hamptons an hour past midnight, on a private dock behind a hulking mansion belonging to a philanthropic wildlife lover. Rotgut had landed a few bluefish and released them reluctantly to Kashmir, who used them to slip the tigers enough opium to calm them. Then we sailed away at speed. About an hour later, helicopters flew over us as we were passing Fire Island, but they didn’t stop.
The next morning began blue and clear, and we sailed into the harbor with a day to spare before the auction. Slate watched the approaching shore with a look on his face like he had never known disappointment, nor ever would. He kept grinning at me, giving me credit for his joy—better, at least, than taking responsibility for his sorrow.
My own mood had improved as well. Part of it was the
season; when Slate had told Bruce it was my birthday, it was only partially a lie. I was sixteen or so, that much was true, although no one knew exactly. Not Bee nor Rotgut, who had been on the
longer than I had, and certainly not Kashmir, who’d only come to the ship a couple of years ago. You’d think the captain would know—when he bothered to think about anything but himself—but it was a mystery to him as well. After all, he was away at sea when I was born, and my mother was gone when he returned, although to a very different place.
I’d spent the first months of my life in the opium den where my parents had met, cared for by the proprietor, a woman named Auntie Joss. After he had mourned the only way he knew how, Slate had barged in, wrapped me in a quilt, and taken me away. He hadn’t bothered asking Joss for details, so my birth date was hard to pinpoint. Instead, the crew generally celebrated my theft day sometime in early summer, whenever we spent a few days in a place where it was early summer. Though there were no signs pointing to an actual party, my father’s mention of one had lifted my spirits. He didn’t always remember.
The bigger part of it was that the captain had waved me over to the helm for the last leg up the Hudson, through
the Narrows. He stood over my shoulder, and my route was bounded on all sides by banks and buoys, but my heart beat faster as the ship surged forward under my watchful eyes, the brass wheel warming to my steady hands. For a moment, I could pretend I was captain of my own fate.
The city unfurled to port and starboard: busy, crowded, full of strange people and stranger sights. Nowhere else in modern-day America was so much variety crammed into so little space. People from all over the world lived side by side—and stacked atop—each other, like the maps in our collection. Libraries and museums displayed the debris and plunder of kingdoms long gone and times far past. Being in New York was like being able to Navigate on dry land.