Gentlemen’s Piracy

By on Apr 15, 2018 in Featured, Fiction

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 Antique sailboat

Cayo Hueso, Ponce de Leon’s isle of bones, dosed under the feet of thousands of March tourists. They called it Key West, not knowing any better, and thought it was the capital of the easy life. Five o’clock somewhere and all that Jimmy Buffet nonsense.

Life had not been easy for the Calusa Indians, who left their dead to bleach in the sun on the tide line. It hadn’t been easy for Ponce de Leon, who took a poisoned arrow in the thigh on his way past and died in Cuba a few days later. It hadn’t been easy for the Americans in the 1830s, tryig to carve a living out of the limestone reef and the mangroves, and it certainly hadn’t been easy for the slaves who did the actual work.

Cazar claimed all these groups as his ancestors, either in blood or spirit, and he felt entitled to a certain amount of derision toward the folks who came down for a weekend of leisure. Not that he’d thought about it much over the last twenty years. He’d been away, across the Gulf — Belize, Guyana, the Yucatan. There, no one pretended that life was easy. It was a good place to work; always the need for a salvage captain with steady nerves, quick reflexes and el perception, a talent for seeing things that others overlooked.

El perception had served him well over the sixty-one years of his life. Guided by the tidal pull of things lost, things looking to be found or else looking to stay hidden, Cazar acted, preempting the need to react, saving trouble and staying ahead of the competition.

That was why he had come back to the family home, the family island, and the Atalaya, his great-grandfather’s wooden-hulled schooner in dock at the Westin Marina. Sitting on a bench above the boat-slips, he studied every visible plank and rope and yard of reefed canvas, looking for the reason why he’d abandoned a lucrative job in Bonaire. The answer was not apparent in the lines of the ship or the way she bobbed in the water like a racehorse jostling at the gate.

Lookout  Charters was taking good care of her. The weathering on the sails and the three masts was all cosmetic, the appearance a working ship should have. She was, after all, old. Over a hundred and thirty years, to be exact. Like the cells in a human body, her structure underwent continual replacement, and nothing but the wheel was original. But, also like a living body, the Atalaya retained a sort of memory that made her the same ship Cazar had grown up on, and his father before him, and so on back through the generations

Cazar’s great-grandfather might have approved of the way she was maintained, but he would be dismayed at the bright plastic coolers lining the deck and the propane refrigerator in the galley, and — most of all — the power motor underneath her stern. Such things were necessary for her current line of work; no longer was her sole purpose to glide above the treacherous reef, going where other boats couldn’t and taking whatever she found there. Cazar had other vessels for that, stashed throughout the Gulf and Caribbean, and he hadn’t come back to the Atalaya since he’d created the charter company to look after her. She still existed as a means to make money from rich ciegos — blind people, ordinary people, lacking el percepction. That was enough for Cazar. Even his great-grandfather would have understood.

But now… there was something fishy, something itchy, like a poorly-done knot in the back of Cazar’s mind. Who knew when it would come loose and cause trouble? Better to settle it before then.

Standing up from the bench, Cazar straightened his shirt and tied back his longish hair. He joined a group of nine or ten ciegos in line at the ramp leading down to the floating dock. There was a makeshirt desk set up there, a girl in a crisp Lookout Charters shirt taking reservations for the afternoon coral reef tour. She was doing just as she should, checking ID’s and looking at people’s faces to make sure they matched. Cazar thought about giving her his usual counterfeit Mexico driver’s license, but somehow his fingers pulled out the real one, which he used only for emergencies. He shrugged to himself. Maybe this was an emergency.

He put it into her hand, smiling as she went down the list and didn’t find his name. “I don’t have a reservation,” he said.

“Well, then, sir,” she began, but stopped abruptly and looked again at the name on the card. “Mr. Villarreal,” she said. “As in, the owner Mr. Villarreal? They said you lived overseas somewhere.”

“I’m back, for a short while,” Cazar told her. She didn’t seem to know what to do with his driver’s license, so he took it back and replaced it with seven twenties — the price of the trip and then some. “I’d like to go on the tour,” he prompted.

The name printed on her shirt was Victoria. She was blond and salt-bleached and much too young. She met his eyes over the handful of cash and said, “You can cancel the tour and go out by yourself, if you want the boat.”

“Ah,” Cazar said. “But if I only do what I want, I might overlook something I don’t yet know I need.”

For some reason, it made the girl laugh. She said conspiratorially, “Well, sir, if you find it on the afternoon tour, let me know. You’ll owe me a cut.” The waiting line of tourists reminded her of business. She looked at the stack of release forms, weighed down with a conch shell against the wind, and said, “I guess you don’t really need to sign any of these… ”

“If I sue my own company, it’s my own business,” Cazar agreed.

He waited while Victoria checked in the last of the ciegos, packed up her forms, and gathered supplies for the trip. He almost missed the discreet detour her hand made to her pocket, tucking in the extra twenty he’d given her. She led the group in a slow procession down the dock, indulging the toursits as they paused to take pictures of the ship, the pelicans, and anything else that caught their fancy.

“She is sweet,” Victoria said in response to one woman’s comment.

“Like a pirate ship,” the lady said.

Victoria’s smile, like her pickpocket’s deftness, was so subtle as to be unnoticeable. Cazr couldn’t resist flirting a little. “Is it you who takes such good care of her?” he asked, and this time the girl’s smile lingered.

“I do everything around here,” she said.

Cazar chuckled. Victoria was all right. She could stay.

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About

Lake McCullough owns an herbal apothecary in the mountains of Colorado, though with the exception of one angst-filled short story which will never see the light of day, she never writes about her job. Instead, she uses writing as a vicarious escape, telling the stories she wishes someone else would tell her. Her story "The Shark Dancer" was recently published by Eclectica Literary Magazine. In addition to writing, she enjoys activities that push her limits, such as mountain biking, backpacking, and going to heavy metal concerts.