Lally made three attempts with his fork to spear a tender sea scallop in buttery white wine sauce without tearing his eyes away from the distant table just in case the rare event (aka Mesa’s smile) should recur. He feared missing it a second time.
“I’ve never seen him smile,” Lally lamented.
Attention arrested as well, Zvonko felt for his glass of water, rather than looking down for it, and picked it up. “I didn’t think he could,” he said, taking a sip.
Hunt didn’t know what to think as she frowned at them, flabbergasted. These two... She looked in the direction of the distant table where Mesa sat by Captain Koning and saw Mr. Fernsby passing behind the pair and, as he did, he locked cold stares with Mesa before carrying on. Glacial. Ambiguous. “Did you see that?”
“Did I miss it again?” Lally whimpered through a bite, “How did I miss it? I was looking the whole time.”
“No, at Mr. Fernsby,” she lowered her voice. “Have you noticed how he gives Mesa strange looks whenever they make eye contact?”
Lally held out hope that he might see a smile, however he was beginning to succumb to disappointment.
Zvonko shrugged. “Doesn’t everyone look at Mesa like that?”
Maybe everyone does, thought Hunt as she bit her lip, but I have a bad feeling about it. “Do you think perhaps Mr. Fernsby might want to kill Mesa, too?”
“Most people do,” replied Zvonko blandly, with Lally nodding in rueful agreement.
She glared at them with worry. Leaning toward them, she whispered urgently, “What if he kills Mesa before I do?!”
“Miss Hunt!” snapped Lally, appalled.
Zvonko’s brows arched in scathing disapproval. “You promised…”
I promised I’d postpone my vengeance, and I will! “I know I did.” Hunt jabbed a finger toward Mr. Fernsby’s as he moved away from the captain’s table. “But he didn’t!”
Lally openly stared at her in disgusted disbelief as Zvonko studied first mate of The Constellation for a moment before turning aside to Lally.
“She’s right, Captain,” Zvonko admitted, his voice barely above a whisper to prevent the crew dining around them from overhearing. “You and I have never met this crew and don’t know anything about Mesa’s history with them. Most people he meets develop a disdain for him.”
Lally scowled. “There hasn’t been a single threat or attempt on his life all day,” he said. “Captain Koning likes Mesa well enough. Maybe she has her crew well in hand.”
Hunt was leaning her chest to the table and peering toward them, forcing herself to remain a part of the hushed conversation. “But how well?” she said. “We’d be in trouble if things take a turn before we make port. You’ve both said you need the Lunatic. Can you really run unnecessary risks?”
Hunt and Zvonko waited for Lally’s response in watchful silence.
He knows we’re right, thought Hunt.
Zvonko was sold on the idea and pressed his captain and friend. “I think this is important enough for us to address the issue with Captain Koning.”
Lally’s inner turmoil darkened his face as he stared down at his plate. He seemed to have lost interest in his food. “Can we do it and still be tactful?” He cast a furtive glance at Koning and Mesa who were chatting about something dull. She was slouched back in her chair, relaxed, and he listened to her without any signs of so much as a smirk on his face. “We’re guests. We shouldn’t wear out our welcome before we get where we’re going.”
Zvonko studied the man in the striped shirt who had turned his back beyond the last table as he busied himself with something on a barrel beyond the reach of the lanterns. “I get the impression that Ferbsy is a proper gentleman,” he said admiringly. “A hard worker and obedient sailor and subordinate to Koning. I think if he is up to something, he wouldn’t do anything untoward in the presence of his captain.”
Remembering his meal, Lally took a bite of sea scallop. “Mesa’s safe around her, then.”
“I would think so.”
“Excuse, Mr. Fernsby!” cried Hunt with a raised hand and winning smile. “A moment, please?”
From across deck, Fernsby’s green eyes flashed in her direction with hesitation before reporting to them immediately for which neither Lally nor Zvonko were prepared and so they stared up at him, awkward and rigid in discomfiture.
Remaining seated, Hunt upturned her face to the man and smiled sweetly. “Good evening, sir. I have a question.”
Fernsby waited expectantly. “Yes, ma’am.”
Hunt could feel the rebuking stares of her friends warning her to tread lightly. “A few questions actually,” she said, chuckling with mock sheepishness. “Our travel companion… Mesa… do you know him well?”
“I suppose, ma’am.”
“You don’t speak to him though.”
“Not often, ma’am, no.”
“I meant you haven’t exchanged very many words with him thus far on this passage.”
“I…” Fernsby looked down at the tablecloth in thought. “That’s an accurate assessment, ma’am.”
“You do have a particular way of looking at him,” she said, beaming brilliantly. “I’ve noticed how you lock eyes. It’s difficult to describe…”
“Oh, that. It’s how we say hello.” None of them believed him and it showed so plainly on their faces that Fernsby added, “Verbal greetings can be tedious between men of few words.”
Enough of this stupid subtlety. Sighing, Hunt rested an elbow on the table and rested her ear on her fist to look up at Fernsby with a tilted head. Her eyes narrowed. “Are you planning something?”
He didn’t blink. “Regarding what, ma’am?”
“Mesa has many enemies who would see him dead.” Hunt lifted her head and looked at his squarely, trying to discern a fellow hunter in the man. “We want to know if you’re one of them.”
Fernsby replied instantly and with absolute graciousness. “Oh, no, ma’am. We’re great friends. Excuse me.”
All three leered after the potentially sincere Fernsby in his navy blue striped shirt as he strode away purposefully, and all three thought independently: I’m not sure if he’s serious.
[to be continued…]