“Was Eugene married?”

“As far as I know, he’s got a wife in the colony, but they couldn’t have kids. If that’s true, then the illegitimate son is probably his only child,” Billy said.

“This child must be of great importance to him. Eugene must have felt very guilty, especially about that fire,” Carina reasoned.

“So, Malcolm used the child to make Eugene do his bidding?” Anne quizzed.

“No, that’s not Malcolm’s style,” Carina shook her head. “At times, he’d use the simplest and most straightforward way to solve a problem, much like the Skull issue. However, keeping someone captive like that is crossing the line – there’s no way he would imprison a living person for that long.”

“So, Malcolm’s hold over Eugene is not his son,” Billy said, stroking his chin. “Then we’re back to square one. Is there anything else that Eugene really cares about?”

“I’m sorry. I couldn’t find anything other than his son. He leads a pretty simple life right now. Spending most of his time each day in the same tavern, he buys and sells news to the captains. Other than this, he rarely does anything else. He’s one man with a bloody rigid life. Apart from work purposes, he never interacts with people, and only does things that rarely put him in conflict with others,” said Carina.

“I still think that Malcolm is using Eugene’s son,” said Zhang Heng, who hadn’t spoken a word since the start. “But he didn’t resort to lowly means such as holding the child in custody. I believe Malcolm showed Eugene that he would always have a way to get to his son, which is why Eugene did as he was told automatically. I know someone we can ask.”

“Who is it?”

“I’ve been investigating Eugene’s interpersonal relationships mainly because I was curious – he’s only in his early forties, meaning that his physique hasn’t suffered significant deterioration yet. Men of this age still have their basic physiological needs. But like you said, after the fire, he had no relationships with women, and he never visited the brothel either. How did he manage to maintain his chastity for more than ten years?”

“Did you find the answer?”

“Mmhmm. Eugene suffers from severe backache. He’s tried various methods but hasn’t found a cure. Then someone recommended him to try the remedy of the Guanahatabey people. He would go to a small manor on the island every other week, where a woman named Carmen owns the place. I believe both of them share some kind of intimate relationship… no, more like a very, very intimate relationship. The treatment has continued for nearly ten years now. They are not simply ordinary friends or lovers. Carmen probably knows quite a bit of Eugene’s secrets, and it’s highly likely that she knows how Malcolm controls Eugene.”

“So, all we have to do is find this Carmen to tell us what Malcolm has on Eugene. Right! then what are we waiting for?” Anne raised her chin.

“We’re waiting for a friend. Carmen will be easier to handle than Eugene, but like I said, she and Eugene have been in a relationship for nearly a decade now. We need to be prepared. Carina and I will go. If there’s too many of us, she may feel uncomfortable.”

Just as Zhang Heng finished, the sound of a carriage coming to a halt could be heard downstairs.

Zhang Heng grabbed his coat and went downstairs with Carina. This was a relatively safe undertaking – Carmen was not much of a fighter – so, to minimize the chances of hostility, Zhang Heng left his knife behind. He only brought a short musket for self-defense.

He opened the door of the carriage for Carina as she picked up her dress and entered it.

Once Zhang Heng was inside, he told the driver, “Go to Hyman Mansion.”

“What about your friend?” Carina asked when she noticed that the third person wasn’t in the carriage with them.

“We’ve arranged a time to meet. He will be there when he’s needed. Let’s just hope that it won’t get to that point.”

Only until the carriage door was shut did Carina finally relax as if stripping off a masquerade. Gone was her stern, unrelenting stance. She leaned back against the seat, rubbing her temples in exasperation. Then, she suddenly remembered that she wasn’t alone and was immediately embarrassed. She did not know what to say to Zhang Heng.

“It looks like you’ve been having a tough time.”

“Not really. Thanks to the money you provided, I was able to pay off all our debts. The rest are just small problems. Speaking of which, whatever you’re doing now… isn’t that even more dangerous? I heard that you came across the navy this time! Six pirate ships went out, but only you made it home. Not only that, you even brought back most of the gold. I don’t think I’ve even congratulated you. It must have been an interesting story,” Carina straightened herself.

“There was also a lot of luck at play.”

“It may be blind luck the first time, but after the second and third, it’s not luck anymore. Now that Black Sam is gone, you and your men are the most powerful pirates on this island. I knew that this day would come when I first met you, but I didn’t expect it to come so soon.”

“You did pretty well yourself. Even though you have Malcolm and the black-market alliance breathing on your neck, you are still able to grow your business into what it is today. When you first came to the island, I’m sure no one believed that you could get to where you are now, not to mention that you were a newcomer.”

Carina smiled thinly. “But I’ve never even won once against Malcolm. If it weren’t for you, my bags would’ve probably been packed, and I would’ve and left Nassau a long time ago.”

“Malcolm has been operating on this island for so long, and now, he even has the black-market alliance under his grasp. You wouldn’t have stood a chance. Now that we’ve identified his weak point, it’s our turn to forge the path ahead.”

At Zhang Heng’s calming suggestions, Carina rested for the remainder of the journey. When she closed her eyes, her mind drifted to the first time she boarded Jackdaw. That night, after having one glass too many of whiskey in the captain’s cabin, she began rambling about her childhood and turbulent past.

That night alone, she revealed her entire life’s story, but ironically, whatever she really wanted to say simply couldn’t leave her lips. After that, when she found out about Zhang Heng and Anne, a woman whose bravery she admired, she had to admit that she must have hesitated at some point.

Concerned that she was merely attracted to his air of mystery, and troubled by Zhang Heng’s pirate identity, she didn’t despise Anne for getting him first. The truth was, what caused people to lose out had nothing to do with timing, but rather, their own hesitation, hesitating at the point of a crucial decision.