May 17 = DAY 6 = Chapter 6
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The Pirate King
The crowd surged and pulled back around Maxence, roiling like the choppy ocean around the ship. The sea breeze fanned the stench of unwashed men and garbage toward Maxence, fouling the air and chilling his bare back.
Maxence kept his hands up, ready to fight.
Cold lines impressed his palms and the pads of his fingers. Blood trickled down his wrists.
Men prowled through the crowd, moving around him and walking behind each other. To his left, the morning sun was near the horizon, and its white blast glared on the sea and made it hard to keep track of who was moving where.
Shouts rang out for both sides of the fight about whether to kill Max or not, and he couldn’t tally whether the superstitious royalists or the bloodthirsty kidnappers were ahead in the polls.
Michael Rossi seemed to be staying out of it, for the most part, standing back with Maxence and watching, but he leaned forward on his toes, alert.
Irritated anger surrounded Max’s steadily beating heart. Damn these men for kidnapping him. Damn them for murdering so many people at the Sea Change Gala, including Nico.
And damn Quentin Sault most of all, that traitor.
Quentin Sault’s colorless eyes narrowed at Max. “Rossi, shoot him.”
Michael Rossi didn’t move, his eyes spreading the folds around his eyes. “This is not part of the plan. We were to eliminate the usurpers who would launch a coup, not kill an heir to the throne.”
Sault screamed at Rossi, his mouth a cavern that blew foul winds. “Shoot him!”
Michael Rossi took a step backward.
One guy, a tall, lanky man with a faded tattoo of a skull and cross bones like a pirate flag across his chest and shoulders said, “We didn’t sign on to kill anybody in cold blood, especially a king.”
Which was the fault line Max had been looking for.
He straightened and flipped one hand in the air dismissively. “Yes, do it.”
The crowd quieted, staring at him and Quentin Sault.
Sault’s lips peeled back from his teeth, and he fumbled for the handgun holstered on his hip.
Max told him, “Go ahead, Quentin. Do it and get it over with. We’ve both known you were going to kill me someday. I always wondered if you’d wait until Pierre gave the order, or whether you would kill me in my sleep when I was on a mission in Africa where you could arrange for no one to be able to find my body.”
Horror hushed the crowd.
Quentin drew his pistol and pressed the cold barrel against Max’s forehead between his eyes.
Maxence stared down the steel decline of the gun and Sault’s arm at the shorter man. “Do it.”
The tattooed guy shoved Quentin, knocking the gun away from Maxence’s forehead.
It clattered to the deck, and Michael Rossi kicked it farther away. Another man picked it up, admiring its high polish.
The tattooed guy said, “You never said this was to murder a king, Dead Eyes.”
Maxence had never heard of a more apt nickname for Quentin Sault. “So, Dead Eyes, what was the plan? Just a little casual kidnapping for ransom? Interesting that you picked a ship to hold me prisoner on, isn’t it?”
Quentin spat at Maxence, “It doesn’t matter where I stash you or whether you live or die today, or whether anybody ransoms you. All that matters is you’re not at the Crown Council meeting for the election tonight. The money doesn’t matter.”
Rossi looked confused.
The men surrounding Max and Quentin leaned back and looked at each other, scowling.
A tickle of energy formed in Max’s mind.
The money might not have mattered to Sault, but it mattered to these guys. Sault must have promised them a flat fee to let him use their boat as a hideout and go along with a kidnapping. They must not have heard there was money involved.
In addition, Max recognized two more men in the crowd from Monaco’s security services. How much money had they been promised to commit treason?
“How much are you asking for, Sault, and who are you asking it from?”
Quentin spat, “It doesn’t matter who we’re asking for the money.”
“Why doesn’t it matter, Quentin? To some of the people here, it probably matters a lot. How many millions are you asking for? Fifty million? A hundred million? Five hundred?”
The crowd began to rumble more.
Maxence turned to the guy with the pirate flag tattooed across his chest. “Nobody’s going to pay a damn penny for me, alive or dead.”
The crowd muttered.
All of them frowned.
Michael Rossi rolled his eyes and turned his back like he was getting ready to walk away.
The guy with the pirate flag tattoo stepped forward. “I thought you were the king of that country.”
Maxence wasn’t going to quibble about the difference between a sovereign prince and a king, between a kingdom and a principality. “Yes, I am.”
The guy squinted at him, thick folds gathering in his leathery skin from years spent on the deck of a ship in the harsh sun. “Are you a bad king? Don’t your country want you back?”
“A country doesn’t make decisions,” Maxence told him. “People make decisions. So, the question is, who would pay to get the king back?”
The man still squinted at him, not comprehending.
“If the king dies, somebody else gets to be the king,” Max explained. “Those people are in charge right now, the ones who would like to be the next king. They would get millions of euros if I’m suddenly gone.”
“Ah!” The guy exclaimed, finally getting it.
A line of magnetism developed between them, as Pirate Flag Guy became Max’s co-conspirator.
Max clarified for the other guys who were listening, holding his hand out as he talked to them. “So, if I go back, those other people will lose any chance at being the king and getting the money.”
Pirate Flag Guy asked him, “Don’t your parents want you back?”
Max brushed it off. “My parents have been dead for years.”
The guy looked ashamed. “I am sorry for your loss.”
It had been so long since anyone had said anything like that to Maxence that he was thrown for a minute, but he accepted the man’s condolences with, “Thank you.”
The guy looked uncomfortable, but he asked, “Don’t you have a wife and kids?”
Max shook his head. “No.”
“No one will miss me if you kill me.”
The guy looked really uncomfortable with that. “You look too old not to have a wife and kids.”
Maxence laughed, throwing his head back as he cracked up. “Yes, you’re right. No parents, no wife, and no kids. My only brother died last month. I don’t have any family who would pay a ransom.”
Maxence was thirty years old and alone in the world, except for his two buddies from boarding school, Casimir and Arthur. They were the only two people on Earth who might come looking for him if he disappeared again.
And Dree. She might be chartering a helicopter to come and find him, but he hoped she was somewhere safe instead.
And his school buddies both married recently. Casimir already had a toddler daughter, and Arthur’s wife had just been delivered of their first child, a son.
They were moving forward with their lives.
Dree Clark’s sweet face rose in his mind. Her look of utter horror in Nepal when she’d come roaring back to find him after he’d had a minor motorcycle accident had floored him.
She would miss him if he died on this ship in the middle of the sea, and he already missed her.
God, he couldn’t die, not now.
Pirate Flag Guy turned to the other man Maxence recognized from Monaco’s secret service. “Is this true what he says?”
The man shrugged. Maxence vaguely remembered him standing in some doorways, but he wasn’t one of the elite team who guarded Max personally. The guy said, “His parents died a long time ago, and he isn’t married.”
Michael Rossi chimed in, “Prince Maxence said he was going to leave Monaco to be a priest. That’s why he’s not married.”
A few of the other pirates shifted, and Maxence watched them get very, very nervous with the thought that they had kidnapped and were threatening to kill a priest.
Max smiled gently at them, crafting an almost saintly expression, and his heart opened with his words. “It’s true. I’ve already been ordained as a deacon. I took the sacrament of Holy Orders several years ago. I’ve worked at churches in Kinshasa and Lagos.”
Those couple of guys looked at each other and then back at Maxence, profoundly uncomfortable.
Ah, another point of connection. He had religion and Africa now.
Maxence drew a deep breath, feeling the turning point in the mob.
They were watching him, their attention as palpable as the sunshine on his bare shoulders and the metal deck under his bare feet.
Max spread his arms, feeling energy flowing through him, like light gathered from the sun and radiated through his heart. “So, what are you going to do with me? No one’s going to pay you to get me back alive.” He gestured toward Quentin Sault. “Unfortunately, either Dead Eyes vastly overestimated my value, or he miscalculated the political situation in Monaco, or he tricked you.”
Maxence had put all his conviction into those last few words.
Three guys seized Quentin Sault’s arms.
Quentin scowled at the guys hanging on his arms. “What the hell are you doing? We have a deal. This is my operation. If you want to get paid anything at all, I’m the one who will pay you.”
It occurred to Max that he could merely outbid Quentin Sault. No matter who was funding Sault, Maxence would have Monaco’s entire treasury in his pocket when he got back to his office.
However, that strategy was likely to break down in quibbles over amounts and mistrust.
It was better if he preached to them.
Maxence certainly looked like one of them, lean from hard work in Nepal and Africa, wearing rags, and his tanned skin covered with tattoos on his arm and back. He turned his arm so the tattoo he shared with Arthur and Casimir faced out, and he turned so that his extensive backpiece was visible to the crowd of sailors around him.
The sunlight burned hotter on his back as the black tattoo ink of the broken angel wings’ shattered feathers soaked up the warmth. The tattoo inked into his skin might convince them more than mere words.
Maxence inhaled, filling his body with the energy he needed. The deck rocked under his feet. Sea and salt saturated the air. “Why did you betray me, Quentin?”
Sault strained against his captors, trying to break free.
Max turned to Michael Rossi. “I saw you with Prince Jules at the Sea Change Gala. Are you part of his security force now?”
Michael Rossi stared at the sunlight blazing a silver trail on the Mediterranean waters around the ship and didn’t answer.
So, yes. Jules Grimaldi was paying Rossi, and Rossi had conspired with Quentin at the gala.
Jules Grimaldi had compromised the entirety of Monaco’s Secret Service.
Maxence leaned his head toward Pirate Flag Guy next to him, gesturing toward Sault, Rossi, and the third man he’d recognized. “There’s no way any one of these three could bribe such a large crew on a policeman’s salary.”
Shock waves rippled through the crowd.
Another man stepped toward Maxence and demanded, “Police? Is this guy secret police?”
“Oh, yes,” Maxence said. “All three of them are, and Dead Eyes is the chief of the Secret Service.”
The revelation that the three men were the equivalent of officers in the secret police caused a wave of revulsion through the onlookers.
The three guys detaining Sault shook him, and other crew members grabbed the other guy and Rossi.
One of the pirates restraining Sault said, “The secret police in my country murdered my grandmother.”
Another guy who was grappling with the lower-level Secret Service man said, “Police tased my brother until he had a heart attack and died.”
One of the guys holding Rossi’s arms behind his back said, “The secret police in my country disappeared my whole family. Do you do that?” He gave Rossi a little shake. “Do you?”
Rossi had murdered Max’s cousin Nico.
A guy sneered at Sault, “You didn’t tell us you were government secret police. How many people have you murdered, police man?”
The three guys yanked around Quentin Sault, the monster of Maxence’s nightmares.
Pirate Flag Guy said to Maxence, “I could tell Dead Eyes was police. I told the others that there was something about him, that he was too clean to be a kidnapper for ransom and not angry enough to be a revolutionary.”
Max said, “You’re very perceptive.”
Pirate Flag Guy puffed his chest and grinned. “It’s a gift. My father could look at a man and know everything about him.”
Maxence nodded. He stepped closer to the center of the crowd, raising his arms again. He asked the crowd, “What problems have you had with secret police in your countries?”
Everyone told their story all at once, disparaging the secret police in their home countries who had made their lives such living hell that they had gone to sea to escape.
One guy from the back of the crowd yelled, “If you’re the king, aren’t you in command of the secret police?”
Maxence called back to him, “I haven’t taken the throne yet. I don’t have the power to abolish the secret police yet. There’s a confirmation meeting tonight I was supposed to be at, but Dead Eyes wants someone else to be the king.” He looked straight into Quentin Sault’s pale eyes. “Once I am crowned, I will do away with the secret police who terrorize people. That’s why he wants someone else to be the king and why the secret police want me gone. The secret police don’t want a revolution.”
The crowd surged like a sea during a storm.
Quentin Sault’s thin lips drew back from his teeth, and he snarled. “You will never be the sovereign prince.”
Maxence turned back to the crowd. “A good ruler doesn’t allow secret police to terrorize people.”
More people in the crowd nodded, watching him and listening.
One guy yelled, “But you said you were a priest.”
Max nodded at him. “I am going to be a priest, but first, I was going to make sure the new king would be a good person, not someone who needs the secret police to drag people out of their homes and murder them at night. Dead Eyes wants a dictator to be the king.”
The crowd roared with this, horrified.
Rossi’s eyes narrowed at Max.
Maxence added, “I don’t want to tax the people to death, and I won’t let the other people in the government take bribes. That’s why they’re trying to kill me.”
Understanding rippled through the crowd as they turned to one another, nodding. A common distaste for government officials who required bribes filled their eyes.
Maxence called out. “The world would be a better place without secret police and corrupt officials. The world should run like a ship, with everyone doing their jobs and everyone getting part of the money for each trip.”
Pirate Flag Guy screwed up his face with thinking. “We don’t get part of the money for the trip. We just get our pay. Dead Eyes promised us each twenty dollars.”
“He said that was all he could pay.”
Max turned back to Sault. “Damn, Quentin. My dead corpse is probably worth a hundred million so Jules can show people I’m really dead and bury me beside my parents, and you were only going to give these men twenty bucks?”
The shouts turned angrier and echoed off the hot metal of the wheelhouse structure, heated by the Mediterranean sun.
Maxence asked, letting his voice grow angry on behalf of the men surrounding him, “You weren’t going to share the millions of dollars with these men?”
Whatever Quentin Sault said was lost in the enraged shouts.
Maxence continued, “Of course, it should depend on how much Quentin gets, overall. If he gets fifty million, then you should each get several hundred thousand dollars. If he gets five hundred million, you should get much more, perhaps a million apiece. That’s only right, getting a share of the spoils.”
“A share?” Pirate Flag Guy asked. “You mean we should make more if he does?”
Maxence turned to him, allowing surprise to register on his face. “You don’t share part of the profits? Sault and these two aren’t giving you, each one of you, part of the ransom money, instead of just a small fee?”
“No.” The guy’s eyebrows were still lowered, though his expression was one of confusion, not anger. “Should we get a share?”
“They will ask for millions, and they were going to give you twenty bucks. That’s not fair,” Max emphasized.
Pirate Flag Guy checked in with the guy beside him, who was also frowning and glaring at Sault. “That’s not fair.”
“It’s not fair,” Max told him again. “That’s how other ships work, especially ships with secrets. If you’re doing dangerous work, things like kidnapping kings or priests, you shouldn’t get paid just a sailor’s salary. You don’t just get a couple of extra bucks from a guy who wants your whole ship to commit an international crime. You should have been sharing profits the whole time.”
The crowd rumbled as the pirates looked around, realized that everybody else was also angry at not getting paid enough, and then allowed themselves to realize that they had been taken advantage of.
And they had.
“Quentin Sault wasn’t going to give you part of it?” Max yelled. “Dead Eyes was just going to pay your captain, who was going to keep all your money?”
Roars from the crowd.
Rossi and the other man were shoved to their knees.
Sault was forced to the ground, where he lay snarling up at Max.
Some of them ran off.
Scuffling and shouting emanated from the high-rise concrete building they stood next to.
Some of the men started kicking Sault.
They would kill him if Max allowed it to continue. “Stop!”
Maxence waded into the scrum around Quentin, pulling men away from him.
Sault lay bloodied on the ground, glaring up at Max. He pushed himself up to sitting and leaned against the wall of the wheelhouse, saying, “You’re weak, Maxence. You will never be half the prince your brother would have been. You will be like your uncle, allowing people to be immoral and lazy instead of working hard to survive. That’s what makes people tough.”
Max was disappointed in Sault. For all his military bravado, Max had thought he would have been more stoic when defeated.
He didn’t blink as he glared at Sault. “My uncle was a good man and a good sovereign. Under him, Monaco flourished. We joined the UN and became a global leader instead of just a casino and a beach. Our GDP quintupled. Our citizens thrived, not just the billionaires who wanted permanent residency to dodge the income taxes of their home countries. Absolutely, I will be a sovereign like my uncle was, not like Pierre would’ve been.”
“People will take advantage of Monaco. Citizens who won’t work and just lay around and drink all day will bleed you dry. You have to make them work, and they should fear what will happen to them if they don’t.”
Maxence sighed and shook his head, thoroughly disgusted. “Sault, you are so obsessed with worrying that one ‘undeserving’ person might get a crust of bread that you would deny all our citizens what they need to live.”
Sault sneered at him, “I thought you were going to be a priest.”
Maxence’s breathing stuttered in his chest. “But I—I’ll make sure the next Prince of Monaco is like my uncle, not like Pierre would’ve been.”
Sault’s rage rose in his eyes, and he flailed against the men holding him down.
Max turned away from Sault and faced the crowd, spreading his arms. “Don’t kill him. He will stand trial for treason in Monaco, as he deserves.”
Behind him, Maxence heard the metallic click of a gun’s safety disengaging.