“Join us, soldier,” Jean Paul said. He waved a bottle, offering a drink. As much as Sal wanted it, he politely refused. Who were these men who stood before him offering liquor?
“Bound for San Diego, or beyond?” Sal said. The three of them looked ragged and dirty, as ragged as he’d looked before the gift of Jimenez’s uniform.
“Ay, we are, and ports beyond. They call us buccaneers,” Jean Paul said. He never expected Sal to refuse the drink. “Bound for any inlet needs dredging, soldier.” He tried to lighten the conversation with some humor. “We’re the mules hired to clear the harbor. We are half men, half mule.” His French companions laughed at his joke and continued to guzzle from their bottle.
“It’s a wise man who holds his own council and refuses a stranger’s liquor, especially if it’s offered by a Frenchman,” Macias said. The wise old man holding the scope was alert to the drinker’s intentions. Sal acted like a disciplined soldier; he made a slight bow and backed away from the men. He had to remind himself he held an important commission from Father Serra.
He turned to look back toward the horizon. A reunion with his lifelong friend, Blas, filled his thoughts.
After several more days and more attempts to approach Sal with liquor, cards and other pastimes, the three Frenchmen forgot trying to start a conversation. They slinked between the other passengers, lingering dangerously close to unguarded pockets and purses. Whenever Sal turned his back, the Frenchmen brushed against his bundled cargo and tried to figure out what types of treasures he delivered for the church. They watched for an opportunity to snatch goods from the cart, but old Macias kept an eye on the men when Sal moved away from his cart.
Macias was slow but sly. He was easy to overlook as a guard, or an ally. During the entire voyage, Sal took little notice of this aged protector, Macias. He watched for more dramatic signs and blessings.
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