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Davey Jones’ Locker

Davey Jones’ Locker

A merchant seeking treasure finds unexpected company

as the tide turns.

Ahead of him, the woman on the rocks was paddling her feet, although the sky was wintry and sea spray gusted across the beach. Her cloak was the inky brown of seaweed, and it washed back and forth round her ankles in the rock pool. She was strange. But she was striking – lithe and slender, with a damp silver sheen on her wild, high cheekbones. And she was watching him approach.

His boots crunched the iron grit below the tide mark. The leather of his left sole had split, corroded by salt and misadventure. The split leaked, and his stocking was already sodden. He had denied himself a new pair – let him suffer for his mistakes. He had other purposes for what was left of his money.

He had come to the beach to remind himself of his loss, and to toughen his resolve to win it back. Or double it, even. He braced himself against the wind and the crash of waves buffeting his ears. The breakers rolled endlessly from the deep and threw themselves on the shore like a siege engine. Whatever they found they dragged away in their undertow. Somewhere out there, the surging, steely water held his fortune. A chest of gold. Under-insured. He wondered if it still glimmered, under the sea. He imagined it tinted green by the depths, as if imprisoned in bottle glass.

Like the woman’s eyes. He was level with her now, and she was watching him. She was almost smiling, a fey tilt to her lips.

‘Foul weather, ma’am,’ he called. His words pitched in the wind and blew away.

She tilted her head, not hearing, inviting him to repeat himself. The hood of her cloak blew off. Part of her hair was pinned, but most of it hung in heavy tangled curls, reminding him of the long strands of kelp beaded with water droplets, which were strewn on the tide line. That was the sea’s exchange – riches for rubbish, lifeblood for salt water. But sometimes, often-times, a ship got clear across. It caught the wind, skimmed the waves, and sailed safe into harbour with a bellyful of profit. Cardamom, coffee, porcelain, silk…They were costly cargos that made and lost fortunes. He played a dicey game in the shipping offices above the port, seeking an investment for the last of his cash.

He should warn this woman about the weather and the turning tide. Where she sat, the rock promontory jutted like a finger into the ocean. He stepped up on the slanting shale, feeling sharp edges break under his boot sole, meaning to draw her back to the warmth and shelter of the ale house.

‘Foul weather,’ he repeated. They were in for a gale, like the one that took the ship with his gold, so it was thought. But who knew? The sea swallowed its victims, and they were gone.

‘Is it?’ The woman’s voice was husky, a little sibilant, like the wash of waves. ‘Won’t you join me?’

He clambered over the ridges of rock, slipping on the wave-slicked surface. He felt water leaching through his other stocking. He didn’t see the woman’s boots. He presumed they were behind her. Perhaps they’d got wet too. She must be cold. She’d been sitting the whole time he’d trekked up the strand from the wharf. He offered her his coat.

‘I don’t want your coat,’ she said. ‘But I would like your company.’

She was unsettling, with her blowing hair and silver skin. She stirred desire in him – an elemental longing, a tidal pull. He felt that knowing her wouldn’t be simple. Even the colour of her eyes had shifted to grey, like a chameleon. She would not be a woman who cared for ribbons and bows or parlours and lapdogs. She would lead him a whirling dance, he thought.

‘What brings you out?’ he asked.

‘Out! Oh, very good.’

Her answer didn’t make sense. Maybe she hadn’t heard him properly. Or she was sloshed on more than seawater.

She dabbled her feet so her cloak swirled. ‘Would you like to play a game?’ she asked. Her eyes had the liquid brilliance of a fish, and her gaze flitted away to the tossing sea.

‘Depends on what’s at stake.’ He’d made one bet, against fate and the ocean, and he’d lost. He needed the entirety of his remnant of capital for his next venture. But his instincts told him the stakes were not financial.

‘Let me guess what’s in your pocket,’ she proposed, her eyes darting over his torso.

A children’s game for adults. ‘And if you get it right?’

‘Then you may guess what is in mine.’

‘And if I get it right?’

‘Ah. Then you may tender for it.’

He smiled. If the stakes were as he hoped, he was up for it. The woman lifted her head and her back arched. He imagined the flow of her skin over bone. He played along.

‘Very well.’ He thrust his hand into the pocket of his greatcoat, burrowed into its woollen warmth, until his fingers found the familiar metal shank, lodged up against the seam. He thumbed the serrations of the bit, calibrated for the padlock he no longer had. The key to the lost chest. ‘Ladies first.’

She laughed, as if that were a joke. Her laugh was deep, like the burble of water.

‘Not money,’ she said, decisively.

‘It’s that obvious?’ She surprised him. Apart from the one boot, he hadn’t thought he looked poor. His coat and hat were of stout quality and hadn’t worn thin, not yet. He had a manner that won him favour, and contracts, so he believed. He was irked, his pride offended. He was momentarily annoyed with the young woman. But more so at himself, for sailing so close to pennilessness.

She gazed out to sea, as if the mass of grey water were an oracle that she could read. He wished her luck finding an answer there. Whatever answers the sea held it didn’t give them up. He’d trudged the shore often enough to know that. He squinted against the wind at the horizon, wishing he had a hook and a line long enough to cast into the Roaring Forties. A hook to reach into the ribcage of the broken ship and extract its heart, the chest where his gold lay sunk.

‘You… have…’ She spoke slowly, as if she had netted an answer and was dragging it dripping from fathoms below. ‘You have… a key in your pocket.’

Her voice was almost misty, as if she shared his yearning.

‘How did you –?’

He saw the flash of triumph across her face, like a sudden strike of sunlight on water.

She hadn’t known, he thought. She’d made a good guess. He cursed for giving himself away. He thought he knew how to play his cards better. Still, according to the odd terms of her parlay, that meant the game continued.

‘My turn.’

She swished her unseen feet in the pool, waiting. Sea water was seeping up her cloak. Was she feverish? Mad?

He considered this, but she was so bewitching he didn’t want to believe it. He preferred to humour her with an answer. What would a woman keep in her pocket, tied around her slim waist, under her cloak and skirts?

He was more interested in the female person than their pockets. He put speculations of her physique aside and tried to reason. He thought most women carried money if they had it. A few coins. He had never paid much attention. He once knew a girl who fixed a button for him. She’d sewn it back with a needle and thread she carried. This girl on the rock didn’t seem the sort. She was not organised or neat. Her cloak was a patchy thing, variegated, as if the dye had run.

She was watching him, sideways, but when he met her eyes they flicked away. He couldn’t read her. She was inconstant, shifting. Perhaps she was lying, but if so, how? He examined her, as if he could look through her clothes to her pocket, but he couldn’t even see her dress. The cloak blew against her figure, clinging as if there was no dress there at all.

Ha. Saucy. That was it. The trick was in the premise of the question.

‘You have no pocket,’ he told her.

‘Bravo! I do not.’ She held up a finger to still his protest. ‘But I do have an object on me. Guess.’ She smiled as if the answer was a rich secret, a sweet surprise she was proffering.

The wind lathered the rocks with fine spray. His hands were chilled, and he shoved them in his pockets, turning the key between his fingers. A key was not such an uncommon thing to carry. Most front doors were opened by servants, so their owners didn’t need to carry door keys, but merchants had safe-boxes and such. This woman looked almost vagrant – she didn’t appear as if she would be encumbered with property or a business. Yet a key had been her first guess. And wasn’t he still carrying a key to something he had lost, rubbing it like an old scar? It was his best chance. He made the gamble.

He pulled out the contents of his own pocket and held it up. The brass was dull, tarnished by constant fingering. ‘Another key.’

The woman’s eyes gleamed like the jade waters of the China Sea. She lifted a bare arm from the folds of her cloak and took a long, slim piece of silver out of her topknot of hair. More of her tresses tumbled down her back. She tilted her palm toward him.

The silver object in her hand reflected the stormy sky and the glinting untrustworthy ocean. It did not look like a key. It was sleek and pointed, like a wing, but with serrated edges.

‘It’s a fin, is it not?’ He held out his hand, wanting to examine it, but she clutched it to her breast.

‘Don’t touch. Not yet. Let’s make a deal,’ she said.

‘I don’t want it.’

‘Don’t you? What do you want?’

He wanted his fortune back. And he wanted her.

She moved her feet in slow circles under the rippling, dark cloak.

What did he have to lose? There was nobody else on the beach, all the way to the horizon. Only she and him. He had time, while his most likely prospect talked another backer on board. And he had an appetite for risk.

‘I—’ How to put it? How best to hook this catch? ‘I like the cut of your jib, ma’am.’

She laughed. Scornfully, he thought. His line had not been well-cast then.

‘I fly no jib,’ she said. ‘I’m no ship of any man’s line.’

‘That’s a pity.’ He smiled at her, angling. ‘I’m in the shipping business.’

She smiled back. ‘And you are looking for a new venture?’

She’d caught onto him well enough.

‘I am.’

‘Aha.’ There was that triumphant flash across her face again, half-concealed, like a flicker of far-off lightning. ‘The deal is – you must take both. Me and the key.’

‘Here and now?’ he said, teasing. He wasn’t expecting her to agree. No woman he knew would.

But she beckoned him, and the half-light of the thunderous sky shimmered along her arm.

He climbed around the rock pool and took a seat carefully, on the damp tilt of rock just above her. She lifted her face to him, the high ridge of her cheeks white as whalebone. He bent over.

Her lips were cool and smooth as pearl and tasted of salt. He wanted more.

He pulled away. ‘Will you come up out of there?’ He offered her a hand. ‘I don’t fancy getting wet.’

As he spoke, he looked about for her shoes, to pass them to her, because the rocks would be rough on a woman’s feet. He didn’t see them. He turned back, about to ask where she had put them, but her eyes had darkened like twilight. She pressed the silver fin into his hand. It was cold.

‘Forgive me,’ she said. ‘I get so very lonely.’ She drew his arm around her waist. He could swear she was naked under the cloak. And chilled.

‘The treasures of the deep do not feel,’ she whispered. ‘They will never want you back.’ Her voice in his ear was like the sound of the sea in a shell.

‘I do not understand you, madam,’ he murmured, nuzzling her neck, reaching for her breastbone with his lips.


He heard the draw of water pulling back from the shore, gathering for a wave.

‘The key,’ she said, ‘is to Davey Jones’ locker. You may have everything.’

What? He meant to lift his head to look at her face, but she let her cloak fall away from her body, and what he saw first was the gorgeous iridescence of her tail, its scales gleaming emerald and sapphire, bronze and gold, like all the lost treasures in the sea.

He felt her arch and press against him, her skin smooth as silver. ‘Come.’

He jerked back but he had no time to get away. The wave broke over them both. He was swamped. The water poured down the neck of his coat and up his sleeves and filled his pockets with cold, heavy brine. Her hair swirled around his face. Her lovely arms pulled him under.

O the beguiling mistress of the sea.

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