“Is it true; your ship burned up?”
Hap nods. “I think I’m the only survivor. Where am I?”
“Smack dab in the center of the spice empire, you are. For all the riches what poor out of ‘ere, it’s hardly paradise. Sebesi’s a tiny island; one of a thousand that make up the Dutch East Indies. Lucky for you, ole Mr. Cohen pays handsomely for white men found out of sorts. Otherwise those savages might’ve made a soup out of you.”
Hap held his breath and watched for David to break, he didn’t. I’ve heard of cannibals, but here?
Daniel burst out laughing, holding his sides as he fought to catch his breath. “Look at you, ready to wet yourself.” He wiped the tears from his eyes while his reddened face faded. Then he leaned forward and nudged Hap. “Seriously though, there’s cannibals about. Lost my crew to the bastards. Mr. Cohen saved me from death only to own my life.”
Hap struggled against his aching sinews and stood. Daniel watched him, examined him, and then closed to shake his hand. “Perhaps now we can tour the grounds.”
As they began, Hap asked, “Who’s Mr. Cohen?”
“Sebesi might as well be called Cohen Isle, it’s his plantation, his port, and his fortune runs everything worth a tinker’s damn.” Daniel leaned in and whispered. “Be on your best behavior and have a care what you agree to when he seeks payment for his kindness. The man makes pennies in trade, and pounds with his shrewdness.”
They stepped out along a passageway that looked down into an immaculately maintained courtyard. Bright colors exploded from enormous potted plants lining the walls. A fountain in the center displayed a sculptured scene. A European man stood before a kneeling Sebesi man. The European’s outstretched hands trickle water upon the surrounding greenery. In the Sebesi man’s raised hands he offers a cylindrical object to his master. Sparkling arcs of water splay out from the cylinder.
Gliding across the courtyard with speed of purpose, Hap spied the elder island gentleman in the teal sash and turban. Though clearly in a hurry, no hint of his urgency marred his face.
“That’s Hamzah, he runs the staff ‘round here,” Daniel explained. “Speaks Dutch and English, so be careful what you say. He’s a gentle old fellow, wouldn’t hurt a fly, but he answers to Cohen.”
Daniel pointed out the thick medieval wood and iron gate across from them. He drew Hap’s attention to an access door within it, and a white marble tile. As one man exited the estate he stepped on the tile as he left.
“Cohen’s placed a Koran under that tile. He doesn’t trust the Muslims, so he does that to keep them out. Hamzah and the staff come from a pagan tribe that surrendered to Cohen’s grandfather ages ago.”
Daniel ushers Hap up a tower on the corner of the estate, around the outside the stairs climbed. From the top Hap surveyed the island’s interior to his left and the port where the fishermen brought him in on the right. The odor of the sea brought back memories of the waves and Hap felt a wave of vertigo. Daniel snapped him out of it when he placed a large spyglass in his hand.
“What were you doing out there, besides drowning?”
Hap brought the glass to his eye and gazed across the glittering waves. Peering back over the horizon Hap beheld a hazy grey mountain. From its peak smoke, black as tar, snaked up into the clouds.
“What’s that?” Hap asked.
“You ought to know, your ship burned moored there.”
“Daniel, dammit, I’m no sailor, nor geographer; what the hell is that smoking mountain?”