Summary: Singapore--den of opium, iniquity, and tight corsets!
Rating: PG-13 (prostitution)
Disclaimer: Disney owns these characters and the setting in which they live.
Notes: ash_night spearheaded the requests for elaboration on the "for another, I can breathe in a corset" line in Fitting the Hat. So, in a prequel to what's becoming a sprawling series, I present you with the sordid tale of Jack's adventures in Singapore. And unless I can dash off the "Jack's long stories" challenge, this really is all until I get back.
An ocean of smells--that was Singapore. Curry and saffron and lemongrass washed solidly over the streets, with deep currents of excrement and occasional eddies of strong perfume. Garlic, meat, and human sweat salted air that carried hints of flowers and overripe fruit.
Jack Sparrow could barely smell the sea.
His nose had grown used to burning oil and wood and the scents of cheap alcohol, unwashed bodies, and livestock--good, solid Caribbean smells that always surrendered to the salt-sulfur of the ocean. Jack had expected Singapore to be exotic . . . but not overpowering.
And overpowering it was. Women swathed in red silks and gold jewelry turned smoky, kohl-darkened eyes to follow the young pirate as he made his way through the crowded streets. Strangers from every nation and creed eyed him as an annoyance, a threat, or an opportunity, and Jack didn't know which disturbed him most. The most weathered buildings had been grander in their glory days than anything he'd ever seen, and those still standing boggled the mind.
The captain had called Singapore a pirate's paradise, and if Jack could have smelled the sea through the mass of scents, he would have agreed with all his heart.
"Pretty stranger," called a dark-skinned woman, leaning out a window to tuck a flower into Jack's tangled hair. "Buy a pretty woman?" Her eyes were like spears, sharp and bright and hard to argue with, and she smelled of cinnamon and garlic.
"Thank you, lass--" he said, disentangling the flower and depositing it between her breasts, "but--" She was being very distracting, running her finger down her neck and into the flower. He could see a flash of corset peeping out of the neck of her bright blue dress. "How d'you breathe in those things?"
"Come inside," she suggested. "Let me show you."
Now that finger was going further down, tracing her bodice-lacings and curving around her stomach. "So long as we're clear that there's to be no extorting with sexual favors, right?"
She pulled him into a sudden kiss. "Clear," she smiled, unafraid to meet his gaze.
Jack had the idea then that he'd made a bad choice. That woman was like Singapore herself--pretty and exotic and seductive and strong-scented, and she'd pull you in if you wanted or no.
"Slit this corset, pretty stranger," the woman whispered, hand on Jack's knife. She took a full, long breath, and he wondered again how she bloody did that.
"How are you breathing, love?" he asked, unfazed by her sex appeal. He'd met plenty of girls with sex appeal, and some of those who'd wanted him. Even one or two who'd had him, and he was young yet. He put it down to devilish charm.
"Not as well as I would out of it." She drew his knife and pressed the flat blade against his chest. "I am not expensive. I am beautiful, and I can please you well."
He had to laugh at that. Plenty of girls with sex appeal, but few enough even among prostitutes who mentioned the fact.
The door suddenly flew open, and a fat little man stalked in. "Custom, Anayar," he muttered, "should be taken out of the common room."
"He will not lie still and be custom," she hissed. The fat man regarded Jack with genuine interest.
"Not be custom for Anayar? Boy, are you a eunuch?" he asked. "Nothing to be ashamed of--I was cut myself for the service of a lady in India; it was twelve years I spent as her translator. Ah--but I see from your look that you still have your male parts. If you are not going to buy a whore, what are you doing still in my brothel?" He brought a hookah down from a cabinet fiddled with it.
"How does a woman breathe in a corset?" Jack asked, indicating Anayar's unclothed bosom. The woman began pulling her arms through her sleeves again and re-lacing her bodice.
The eunuch smoked lazily, and the smell of the smoke mixed with Anayar's garlic-cinnamon scent and the aroma of frying bread from the shop next door. "Why don't you show him, Anayar? For a fee, of course."
"Of course," she replied, taking in another breath . . . but she held it an instant too long, and Jack got the feeling that this was most definitely a bad idea as she put his knife back into its sheath.
The whores giggled over him as he took in his reflection. He still cut a dashing figure; he had all of his own teeth and not one of them rotted, and he was just getting the hairs of a mustache and beard. He wore rings on his fingers and beads in his hair that he'd gotten from a ship bound for the African slave markets.
The black corset marred the impression only a little.
"Right, lasses . . . I have no difficulty!" he boasted, tweaking the laces.
A woman with freckles all across her body (and he could see quite a lot of her body) took the laces and pulled. Jack's eyes bulged.
"Easy on the goods--love!" he gasped. She smiled at him, and she had a chipped tooth. Her breath smelled of meat.
"Must be tighter," she said, and a heavyset girl in a creaking corset pushed her out of the way to loosen the laces.
"Not too tight." The girl had a thick Cossack accent and quick fingers. "Wants to learn breathing, not to be thin." She tied off the laces in a neat bow.
Anayar made her way through a press of laughing, dark-skinned women to the bound pirate. "The top of your chest, pretty stranger," she murmured. "In your ribs, in your throat."
"Is very pretty," the Cossack girl confided loudly to an Oriental who wore nothing at all. They laughed behind their hands as though he couldn't hear.
Jack was young, but he already knew that the best part of being young and attractive is knowing that people know you are young and attractive. He spread his arms and took one of those top-of-the chest breaths. "Of course I am--I'm Jack Sparrow!" he announced.
In later years, he would gain both the chutzpah to pull such an announcement off and the title of "Captain," which would go a long way to forging his credibility. He would one day have grace and canniness and a legend (albeit not a large or particularly creative one) to back him up.
Those days were far off, though, and on this day in Singapore the whores laughed at him.
"Can you breathe, Jack Sparrow?" Anayar laughed, holding herself up against the stand-mirror.
"Yes, thank you muchly," he muttered. He really could breathe, and now that the mystery was solved he rather wished he'd just let Anayar use her wiles to extort his pay. She was a pretty thing, but she looked ugly indeed when she was laughing at him.
"I'll be going now," he announced, though less grandly.
"In my corset? I think not--Jack Sparrow!"
Anayar, he decided, looked even uglier when she was doing such a miserable impression of him. She really wasn't so pretty after all, muttered his subconscious rebelliously.
The look Jack shot at her should have killed her where she stood, or at least maimed her irreparably, but it only made her laugh harder. Jack bent, as much to wrestle down his flush as to pick up his shirt.
As he stood, he drew his knife and slowly slit the corset's lacings.
Even at seventeen, Jack couldn't resist a parting shot. "I'll even leave the fee on the dresser, love."
He would later learn that saying that kind of thing was in very bad taste. For now, though, as what seemed like every whore in the place descended in a rage, he learned a more immediate lesson--always be sure you're out of range before you have the last word.
Singapore was an ocean of smells; it was a den of pirates and bad characters. It was a learning experience.
It might have been a pirate's paradise, as well, but Jack was never so glad as when the ship had cast off from deck and he'd left its scents behind.
The island had been too tight for him, and now he could take a deep breath full of the smell of the sea.
Return to Archive | sequel