“DEAD RECKONING”Not since their harrowing voyage to the Isle of Castaways had the erstwhile crew of the Maximum felt so overjoyed to see dry land as they were that day, struggling to keep their minds focused on this final stretch of their treacherous trip as the Excelsior concluded her maiden voyage.
Of course, if the bounty hunter Roxy had any horror stories of her own, she wasn’t in the mood to share them as she and Rufus came to double-check Mercer and Striker’s captive crews before they made landfall on what Justin told them was the seaport of Anchor Point, on the island of Yarbo. Sebastian and Maximilian continued to lend Justin a hand guiding the ship while she backed up Max and Shades at the brig. She could only hope the sudden announcement caught their prisoners off-guard before either of them could get their act together enough to try any last-minute escape attempts.
Anchor Point turned out to be a sprawling seaport town, ranged around a natural inlet, with a substantial dock complex at the main harbor. Much to their relief, the inlet was also deep enough to accommodate vessels as large as the Excelsior. As they slowed down for their final approach, Maximilian found the Port Authority’s frequency and hailed them, announcing both their arrival, as well as their troublesome situation. The dispatcher assured him there would be security officers on hand to apprehend the hijackers.
He and Sebastian came out to greet them, while Justin weighed anchor and prepared for boarding, the Young Master presenting the waiting officers with his charter, as well as Mercer’s contract and bogus cargo manifest.
The armed guards, wearing outfits that reminded Shades of Coast Guard uniforms from his own world, came down to the staterooms where the prisoners were held.
As the hijackers were marched out, looking mostly humiliated and rueful, even the two Cyexians, all of them could spare a venomous glare for Rufus. Who looked like he was about to hide behind the bounty hunter. Especially from Mercer, who actually spat at him as he went past.
“The feeling’s mutual,” Shades muttered, summing up their collective relief at finally being able to relax aboard their own ship again.
Once they were past, Roxy stepped aside to have a word with one of the officers.
“So that’s the Hunter Roxy…” an officer, who had introduced himself as one Constable Dennis Naysmith when he first came aboard, remarked. “I’ve only heard stories about her. A bounty hunter of no small reputation. You folks were lucky to have her along.”
“Very lucky,” Max agreed. “Before that, Striker basically had us.”
The constable whistled long and low as he walked away to join Roxy’s negotiation with his subordinate, mumbling, “Sounds like you had one hell of a voyage…”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Justin concurred as he came over to join them.
“All the same,” Constable Dennis remarked, “I just hope she doesn’t start too much trouble around here. Heaven knows, we already have our own share of it. From the sound of it, this Mercer and his boys gave you a rough ride, but he won’t feel so tough after a week in the Yarbo Stockade.”
While the prisoners were led away, Roxy rejoined them, saying, “I’ve explained the basic situation with them, and they’ve agreed to hold off on our docking and other fees until they’ve ironed out the bounty on Mercer and his cargo. And since you had a hand in his capture, I’ve also agreed with split the bounty with you fifty-fifty.”
“Fair enough.” Maximilian nodded.
“Um, what about me?” Rufus piped up.
“What about you?” was Roxy’s curt reply.
“Don’t I get anything?”
“You get amnesty, just like I promised,” the bounty hunter answered. “That’s what you bargained for, isn’t it? Don’t push your luck.”
“Well, yes… But what now?”
“Get lost,” Roxy told Mercer’s treacherous second, “and don’t ever cross my path again. While you’re at it, you’d be wise to leave this island as fast as you can. Rumors are one thing prison walls don’t contain for long, and Mercer and his boys are gonna smear your name from one end of this town to the other. And depending on what kind of tales Mercer tells them, the authorities may come looking for you anyway.”
It appeared to be all Rufus could do not to run as he scurried off to go pack his bags.
“He did get us out of here alive,” Max pointed out.
“And he sold out his own men to do it,” she reminded them. “He can’t be trusted.”
“Perhaps we could’ve given him a second chance,” Maximilian suggested.
“He just sided with the winning team, that’s…” Justin trailed off, looking like he didn’t like the taste of his own words.
“If you expect to wear that captain’s hat for long,” Roxy chided Maximilian, “you’re going to have to stop being so gullible. Mercer’s just the first in a long line of people looking to use you.”
“I suppose you’re right,” the erstwhile Young Master conceded.
“I suppose I am.” With that, she turned to go crash in one of the guest quarters. “I don’t know about you, but I could use some shut-eye. Any of you wake me up for anything less than a life-or-death crisis, I’ll cut your nuts off.”
Still, she maintained a lingering scrutiny on Justin, as if she still expected to remember him from somewhere.
“She could try being a little more personable,” Sebastian mumbled after she went inside.
“I think that’s just her way,” Shades commented, “but I doubt she’ll be sticking around long after she collects her bounty. We should probably start thinking about what to do next.”
“I think she has the right idea,” Maximilian concluded. “Without a crew— or passengers or cargo— we’re right back where we started in Alta. Plus we’ll need to pay for food and supplies, as well as docking in the meantime, and I’m too tired to think straight. After everything we’ve been through, I think we should all just rest today, and worry about the details tomorrow.”
“Very good, Young Master,” the butler replied as they went back inside.
“I’m with him,” Justin yawned. “Now that we’re finally on solid ground, I’m beat.”
“Still, I’m taking a room down the hall,” Shades added. “Neutering is for pets.”
They all shared a nervous laugh as they turned in.