Oscar looked at the beast of a man once more. He was nearly twice the size of anyone Bull had ever fought. Bull was a titan himself. Bull’s opponent was nervously rocking on the pads of his feet, his beady eyes darting around the small ring. The crowd was loud and packed tight. The air was difficult to breath. The smell of unwashed man overwhelmed any other scent worn. This wasn’t the final match of the evening, but this was the last fight of the night for Oscar. He wanted to cash out afterwards. He’d never bet against his own man but he also didn’t want to lose all his earnings. He needed to find a weakness in the giant.
The crowd continued to get louder and more obnoxious. Someone, drinking and celebrating, fired a pistol into the air, blasting a hole in the tent ceiling. They grew more and more obnoxious. Oscar hated these events but there wasn’t a nighttime pastime that promised the profits that underground street fighting did. The crowd cheered and raised their drinks. The giant, on the other hand, quickly dropped to the ground, covering his head, spooked by the gunshot. Oscar smiled, there was a weakness.
Oscar walked to the counter and placed his pouch on the surface. The bartender asked if he was ready to lose his winnings. Before Oscar could answer, a man from behind pushed his way to the counter and slapped his own bag on the counter.
“Good evening, Oscar Murch. Care to make this interesting?”
Oscar had never seen the man before but somehow the man knew him, or knew of him. How wonderful. Oscar groaned at the forced social interaction but turned his body and extended his hand. The gentleman wearing a pair of goggles on the crown of his head took Oscar’s hand into a firm, death grip and shook it slowly. “My name is Marcus Collins. Kilo, the giant you are sizing up, is my machinist. Would you like to ripen the pot?”
“My friends call me Oz. What’d you have in mind?”
The man leaned closer and whispered, “The Ships.”
Oz was startled, Markus’s breath was dank, more suited for the crypt. He studied the man. Markus was smirking back at him as serious as a death sentence.Oz suddenly wanted nothing to do with this. His ship was his livelihood. His crew was practically his family. Oz attempted to change the tone of the conversation. “I know nothing about you, sir, nor do I know anything about your boat.”
Markus laughed. “It’s not just a boat, captain, it’s a steam-powered, flying machine! Have you seen one before, an airship i mean?”
Oz hadn’t, at least close up He had seen one high up in the sky, from 1500 feet below. Oz was the captain and owner of the Marty O’Lassiter, a 160 year old, two-mast brig. She was a dependable old snail that had been in his family for many generations. In this age of steam ships, privateering with a sail was a challenging business. Oz imagined how an airship would revolutionize their operations. Marcus Collins waited while Oz mulled it over.
“What about the crew? What will become of the losing man’s team?”
Markus paused for a moment then stated that he’d offer crew members from the Marty O’ their jobs. They could stay if they chose to. Oz nodded. That was fair. He respected Markus’s honesty. Markus returned the question, asking if Oz would offer his crew the same courtesy. Oz laughed, joked that he’d make them all walk to plank, with throats sliced from ear to ear. Markus’s eyes grew wide, horrified then quickly squinted, the corners of his mouth matching his eyes expression, realizing Captain Oz had taken an attempt to joke. Oz assured him that his men would enjoy a profitable future, their safety was their own problem. Oz didn’t mention that the men would be valuable since he didn’t know the first thing about commanding a flying ship. Hell, maybe he wouldn’t even mention he was afraid of heights. That wasn’t entirely true. It wasn’t the height he was afraid of but the ground upon impact, as the joke goes.
Markus comforted Oz, reminding him that he’d never be faced with this outcome, since Kilo was guaranteed to defeat the balding, nose-picker from the Marty O’.
This time it was Oz raising the eyebrows, saying, “Nose picker, you say? I wouldn’t start counting your apples until they ripen, sir.”
Marcus asked him if he meant ‘chickens’ and ‘hatching.’
“We’re at sea many months at a time, sir. Who has time for chickens? The only use we have for chickens is at the end of a skewer.”
The men shared a laugh. Oz extended his hand for Markus to take. “It’s a deal…winner of the match takes both ships. May the best man win.”
Marcus took Oz’s hand. He gripped it unnaturally strong. He pulled Oz very close, his breath reaching the young captain, painting his face with a strange mist. Markus’s eyes roamed over Oz’s face, appearing to scan every pore, violating what personal space there was in the underground fighting area. Oz crinkled his nose and tried to pull his hand away. He felt like vomiting. Markus held on still, even tightening his hold.
Marcus gave the hand one final squeeze and grunted, “Deal!”
He released and marched off in the other direction, leaving Oz standing alone, dumbfounded, unable to comprehend what the fuck just happened.
Once Markus had been gone a few moments, Oz took a deep breath. The smell of humans still remained, loud, obnoxious, drunk humans. What would normally be an appetizing aroma turned Oz’s stomach. He had no interest in food at the moment. He needed to send his servant back to the Marty O’ to retrieve the deed as collateral for Bull’s fight. Oz scanned the crowd. His servant was no where to be found. He would have to head back to the ship himself. The fresh air and calmer atmosphere would do him good he told himself. He told the bartender that he would return shortly, grabbed his purse from the countertop and rushed out the door.
Oz knew right where he kept the deed, fortunately. He spent very little time on the Marty O’. He had time to notice a few of his deck hands conversing with two of the locals. The young ladies were getting a tour of the ship, a taller brunette admiring the fine woodwork while two of his men admired her parents gene work. She twisted a loose end of rope around in one hand, her other hand in her hair, flipping the locks flirtatiously. His men were hypnotized. Oz cursed softly, “Sirens, all of them.” As he reached the plank to the dock, he hollered back, “Make sure you show the ladies your shit bucket, maybe even get them to dump a few pails for you.”
He heard a female gasp, shocked at the language. Oz rolled his eyes, thinking they would hear way worse before the night was over. As Oz left the ship, he gave one more order, “Just clean up any messes you make, boys…”
“Aye, Captain” was the response.
His crew was young, horny and stupid (in that order) yet he loved each and every one of them. He didn’t mind his men bringing ladies back to the ship, but sometimes his men weren’t always the sharpest tacks. More often than not, Oz would return to the ship with an angry husband, father or brother chasing a naked member of his crew around. Once in a long while, they’d have to hastily depart in the middle of the night at the request of an angry mob with pitch forks and torches. Oz was getting better at dropping anchor in ports more friendly to their kind, but he still made mistakes. A convenient as it was visiting a human-run port, sometimes it was just easier to find a nice, friendly vampire one. Life used to be easier, then he was turned and it became a rat race.