"Monsieur Tonty," the sailor said, after knocking on the captain's door.
"You may enter," Aigron said quietly.
The sailor opened the door, then stepped aside to allow Tonty entrance. L'Aimable's captain's cabin was high in the rounded stern of the vessel. Though not particularly large, the cabin was fitted out in a splendor not seen in the rest of the ship. Several brass whale-oil lamps were mounted on swivels that rocked with the ship. One lamp was placed near the berth, another near the table where Aigron sat, and another near an angled shelf mounted to the wall where the navigation charts were kept. A finely woven Persian rug, now becoming moth-eaten and worn from foot traffic, lay on the floor. To the right was Aigron's berth. Little more than a wooden shelf with high sides to prevent a person from rolling out as the ship rocked, it was fitted with linen sheets and a pair of feather pillows.
Atop one of the pillows lay the ship's cat. The aged feline looked worse for wear. He was a dusty yellow-and-brown color with a missing ear, the result of a rat attack deep in L'Aimable's hold. The cat hissed as Tonty entered the cabin.
"Monsieur Tonty," Aigron said, still sitting at the table, "what brings you here?"
"La Salle orders you to prepare L'Aimable to sail in the morning," Tonty said evenly.
Tonty did not care for Aigron, and the feeling was mutual.
"Captain Beaujeu and I have been talking," Aigron said haughtily, "and before we will set sail we must see Monsieur La Salle's charts. We have no idea of the location of the river. More important, we need a solid course to sail."
"I see," Tonty said quietly. "So you and Beaujeu have decided this?"
"Yes, we have," Aigron said forcefully.
"Then you leave me little choice," Tonty said.
Tonty took two steps closer to Aigron, then grabbed him with his iron hand by the neck and held tightly. Dragging him along the passageway to the ladder, he pulled him topside to the deck. Once on the main deck, he shouted to the closest sailor.
"Who is the second in command?" Tonty asked.
A tall, thin man stepped forth. "I am, Monsieur Tonty."
"Scrub this ship from stem to stern," Tonty said. "We sail in the morning with La Salle as your captain. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir," the second officer said.
Aigron started to speak, but Tonty squeezed his Adam's apple tighter.
"Captain Aigron will be going ashore with me," Tonty said, as he led the captain to the ladder going down to the shore boat. "La Salle will be back in a few hours. We weigh anchor at first light."
"As you wish, sir," the second in command said solicitously.
Tonty dragged Aigron across the deck to the ladder and then down the few feet to the shore boat. Stepping into the boat, he pulled the captain into a seat and motioned for the sailor to shove off. The boat was halfway to the dock before Tonty released his grip on Aigron's neck.
Staring straight into the captain's eyes, he spoke in a low voice. "You may take over command of Belle or I'll toss you into the drink right now. What is your choice?"
The hook had crushed his voice box-Aigron could barely speak.
"The Belle, please, Monsieur Tonty," Aigron said in a hoarse whisper.
The shore boat was pulling abreast of the dock.
"You defy La Salle's orders again," Tonty said, "and your neck will feel my cutlass."
Aigron gave a tiny nod.
Then Tonty climbed from the shore boat and walked down the dock without looking back. His friend La Salle dreamed of conquering a continent for his king.
But dreams do not always come true.
Reprinted from The Sea Hunters II by Clive Cussler and Craig Durgo by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 2002, Clive Cussler and Craig Durgo. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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