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The Cooke and Hood families have been at each other’s throats since the Spanish Main days. The latest chapter in their piratic rivalry takes place in present day, when an old treasure map turns up. None of this seems to matter to Morgan Cooke, a cowardly, landlubbing accountant entirely ignorant of his heritage until his estranged father, Isaac, in need of crewmen, kidnaps him and thrusts him into the fray. When Morgan wakes up on a boat in the middle of the Caribbean, he learns that piracy still flourishes, albeit with far more discretion than in the old days—pirates disguise their fast boats as shrimpers or tugs—but with no less bloodshed. Judging even a shot at riches vastly preferable to a return to his lonely, fluorescent-lit workstation existence, Morgan sets sail for glorious adventure.


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Napoleon bonaparte hid in the darkest corner of the bal-cony. Hand characteristically tucked into waistcoat, he peered

into the night.Suddenly one of the doors swung open, loosing sounds of a

party inside. Napoleon froze, until seeing it was Moses.“Coast clear?” Moses asked.“Yeah,” Napoleon said.“Cool,” said Moses. He stepped out, the familiar pair of stone

tablets tucked under an arm, and he carefully shut the door.Napoleon then withdrew his hand from his coat. In it was a

joint. Moses set down the Commandments and fished a Zippo fromhis robe.

Of note, the day was Saturday; the date August 13, 1976, and theoccasion the twenty-ninth annual Costume Ball at the Shore HavensYacht Club in Cape Bantam, Florida, about fifteen miles down thecoast from Pensacola.


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Construction of Shore Havens was completed in 1924. Still, thepalatial limestone clubhouse, with its vast pavilion, colonnadedportico, and topiary-sprinkled grounds, could have beendropped into the Palais de Versailles’ neighborhood and, as thearchitect had promised, not stood out a bit—excluding, ofcourse, any attention drawn by an eleven million pound buildingbeing dropped.

While sharing the joint, Moses and Napoleon surveyed thebroad cul-de-sac two stories below. At the foot of the marblestaircase that spilled down from the entrance, a diamond-bedecked Queen Elizabeth I was hoisted from a Bentley by herchauffeur.

“Nice touch,” Moses said.“I dunno,” Napoleon said. “She died four hundred years before

they had cars.”Atop the steps the guard, clad as a British beefeater, tended to a

plump rendition of Harpo Marx. “Name please, sir?” he asked.By way of response, “Harpo” pantomimed, holding forth one

hand, then pointing skyward with the other. The beefeater,a Shore Havens security man forced to work overtime and swel-tering beneath a two-foot-high black fur hat, regarded himblankly.

Additional pantomime served only to anger Harpo’s wife, aSalem witch. “Hanson,” she explained to the beefeater. “Dr. andMrs. Arthur Hanson.”

The beefeater crossed out their names on the scrolled guest listand waved them in.

“Decent concept,” Moses said.“Eh,” Napoleon said with a ribbon of smoke.The duo’s attention was drawn to the bay behind the clubhouse

by a little motorboat buzzing toward the dock. In it sat a man in pi-rate garb.

“Now that,” Napoleon said, “is clever.”

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Inside the clubhouse, in the lofty Grand Ballroom, a sixteen-pieceorchestra dressed as eighteenth-century Quakers belted out a bois-terous brand of swing. Dancing, drinking, and gossiping to thebeat was an historically costumed crowd of some four hundred ofCape Bantam’s social and economic elite.

Among them an ordinarily jovial Henry VIII glowered at his wife,who’d come as Joan of Arc. A few cocktails earlier she’d admiredfrom afar the sturdy left pectoral muscle exposed by Zeus’s toga.Now she was squeezing it.

Henry snatched her by an elbow and dragged her toward theexit. “Darling,” he hissed, “you should’ve come as Jack Daniels.”

He steered her clear of the bayside terrace door, enabling thepirate to enter. Joan, meanwhile, batted her eyelashes at Harpo. Inresponse Harpo enthusiastically honked his bicycle horn. But bythen Joan was transfixed by the pirate.

He was a man in his late thirties, of average height and weight,but, like a ship’s rigging, his muscles and tendons were fixed, trim,and taut. One strong forearm bore a tattoo of a dagger, the other,a three-masted barque. Yellow-blond hair peeked from beneath ablack bandanna onto which was sewn a white silhouetted hourglass.His gold hoop earring, blouse, breeches, brass telescope, and swordall had a worn authenticity, but his sea blue eyes comprised the mostconvincing element of the ensemble. They shone from beneath hisblack mask and sang of the sort of spirit that relished swingingaboard an enemy barque and crossing blades with all comers.

“A sailor!” Joan gushed.“I think he’s supposed to be a pirate, dear,” Henry said, at-

tempting to tug her onward. She stayed firmly in place.The pirate stepped aside to let Queen Elizabeth I pass, then ac-

knowledged Joan. “Good evening, madame,” he said, and, with a tiltof the head Henry’s way, he added, “Your Highness.”

“A pirate!” Joan gushed.“Aye,” the pirate said.

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Joan giggled. Then, to the pirate’s surprise, she began to ticklethe rounded brass pommel of his sword hilt. With a pained sigh,Henry attempted, once more, to haul her off, but she clung to thepommel, unwittingly drawing the entire sword from its scabbard.The steel blade flashed like a firecracker as she teetered beneathits unexpected heft.

“Christ,” Henry yelped, leaping out of the way, “that thing’s real!”The pirate leapt to Joan’s aid, stabilizing her and reclaiming the

sword. Then he said to Henry, “Of course it’s real. I’m here toplunder gold and jewels. If I run into any opposition, I’m better offwith a real sword than a plastic one, right?”

Joan laughed. Henry, pointedly, did not.“Well, Captain,” Joan slurred, “you certainly picked a good night

for gold and jewels. I’ve seen three queens here. And it’s still early.”The pirate grinned, displaying teeth that often drew compar-

isons to sugar cubes. His reaction was due mostly to the fact thatthe diamond necklace seen seconds earlier around the neck ofQueen Liz now resided in his breeches.

Shortly thereafter, in Shore Havens’ oak-paneled Tap Room,Henry was attempting to lodge a complaint to the head beefeaterabout this reckless pirate jerk and his lethal weapon, which surelyviolated a dozen house rules. Henry was stymied because the club’scomplaint-lodging procedure involved first writing a letter to theRules Committee, but he continued to whine long enough that thecommodore—fittingly costumed, he felt, as Admiral Nelson—tookup the case. He suggested that, for starters, they establish the pi-rate’s identity.

“It’s definitely not Dickie Cregan,” he said. Dickie Cregan wasthe reigning club champ in debauchery. It wasn’t until three yearsafter the renovation that they discovered the two-way mirror he’dbribed the contractor to install in the ladies’ changing room.“Dickie,” continued the commodore, “came as Pope Pius.”

The head beefeater, who was the club’s chief of security, weighed

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in. “None of the boys or me think we seen any pirate coming in,” hesaid, “but it’s hard to say for sure.”

His lack of certitude, he felt, vindicated his protest to the EventPlanning Committee that he and his men would be encumbered bythe beefeater costumes, particularly the two-foot-tall hunks of furfor hats. Taking his side, one of the committee members noted that,historically, such caps were worn not by beefeaters but, rather, bypalace guardsmen. The conflict was settled when the majority of themembers expressed the opinion that the hats looked neat. More im-portantly, they’d already been paid for. Sure enough, throughoutthe party the security men had battled to keep the brims from slid-ing over their eyes.

The inquiry in the taproom took a decided turn when a flushedQueen Elizabeth I ran in, leaving a trail of tears.

A moment later the music in the ballroom ceased, and a hushseized the crowd. Spears in hand, two beefeaters charged towardthe pirate, who was meandering back to the bayside terrace. As ifunaware of them, the pirate stopped at the buffet table, ladledhimself a cup of fruit punch from the large pewter bowl, and tooka sip. He found it pleasantly tart. He was considering complement-ing it with an éclair when the beefeaters caught up to him.

“Sir,” the head man said, “we need to ask you to step outsidewith us.”

The pirate turned toward the beefeaters, and, finding no onestanding between them and himself, he gave the appearance ofsurprise. “You mean me?” he said.

The head beefeater nodded.“What on earth for?”“If you don’t know, then you got nothing to worry about.”The beefeaters then started out, until realizing the pirate wasn’t

following. He was still at the buffet, finishing his punch.At the same time, he was sneaking a look at the service exit. It was

blocked by a third beefeater. The windows? All shut. He mulled his

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options. Then, in one blazing motion, he drew his sword, leapt at thebeefeaters, and slashed their spears—which were plastic—in two.

“Okay now,” he said, with unusual calm, “everybody, back off.”Startled guests scurried aside. The pirate then had a clear path

to the terrace—but only for a moment. The beefeaters stepped intothe way.

The pirate clarified, “When I said ‘everybody’—”Abruptly, he ceased clarifying, because they’d drawn guns.“Beefeaters,” he protested, “aren’t supposed to have those.”“Okay, now, lower your sword down onto the floor, pal,” the head

man said. “Nice and easy now.”To his relief the pirate complied. The other beefeater then

jammed his gun into the small of the pirate’s back and tried to prodhim out. However, the pirate remained planted by the buffet table andlaughed. “Come on now, boys, the sword thing—it was just part of theact. What do you say we have us a drink and forget all about this?”

“I don’t think so,” said the head beefeater.“Well,” the pirate said, with seemingly misplaced finality, “I insist.”At once he jerked free of his captors, snared the big pewter

punch bowl, and slung it at them. Its tart contents stung their eyes,momentarily blinding them. He used that moment to lunge for thesilverware on the buffet table.

There are martial artists who can throw everyday playing cardswith such velocity that they serve as lethal weapons. Demonstratinga variation on that theme, the pirate, with a unique sidearm throw-ing motion, sent a pair of stainless steel spoons flying, one after theother, much, much faster than anyone else present would haveimagined possible.

The first spoon drilled the head beefeater in the wrist, costinghim his grip on his firearm. It clattered to the floor and skippedunderneath the buffet table.

The second spoon nailed a waiter in the elbow, causing himto spill a tray loaded with full champagne flutes onto the otherbeefeater, blinding him anew.

The third beefeater, who to this point had been merely standing

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by the service exit, drew his gun. For him the pirate chose a largeserving fork. It whistled over the heads of dozens of guests before itsthick prongs came to rest in the frilly cuff of its target’s right sleeve,pinning the fabric—and, effectively, the man’s gun—to the wall.

The guests watched in amazement, every one of them at a loss forwords—except for Harpo Marx, who shouted, “Holy fucking shit!”

The pirate reclaimed his sword and leapt onto the buffet table.He got a running start, hurdled the éclairs, and sprung off the farend, launching himself toward a drape that had been pulled asideto reveal a two-story-tall window overlooking the bay. In midair hegrabbed onto its thick draw cord, swung on it for a dozen feet or so,then crashed through the windowpane. With a comet tail of brokenglass, he plummeted three stories, disappearing into the darkness.

The guests collectively gasped. The beefeaters shook off theirown amazement, then rushed out in pursuit. Via the door.

A mile or so down the coast stood, albeit barely, a ninety-five-yard-long wooden pier. In the nineteenth century, it had been a grandconcourse through a forest of spars and rigging. In 1976, it washome to hundreds of thousands of mollusks and, above them, theOceanside Penny Arcade, where games cost a dime. The same nightas the Shore Havens Costume Ball, the arcade was the location forthe ninth birthday party of one sprightly, fair-haired Morgan Baker.

Amidst the din of pinball machines and an elderly popcorn ma-chine gasping to keep up with demand, Morgan and a dozen otherboys indulged in Skee-Ball. As the game was played at the Oceanside,a dime bought nine wooden balls—each about the size of a baseball—that were rolled up a six-foot rubber ramp toward a target consist-ing of pockets with point values relative to the difficulty of attainingthem. The higher the nine-ball point total, the more tickets won. Ten good games’ worth of tickets could be redeemed at the prizecounter for a comically oversized plastic comb, a rubber snake, or—very popular with the birthday partyers—stale gum. A great night ofskeeing netted enough tickets for a pair of fake-fur-coated oversized

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dice, an Instamatic camera that would never actually function, or afart cushion. It was the last prize about which the boys dreamt.

Suddenly, save the corn popper, the arcade went quiet, every-one’s interest snared by the sound of fireworks outside. This wascause for particular excitement among the boys, until one of theold guys at the air hockey table informed them, “Those ain’t fire-works. Those’re gunshots.”

A couple of the boys swallowed their stale gum. All studied theirleader, Morgan, to determine whether it was okay to show fear. Hissteely blue eyes, as usual, showed none. Still, one of his friendssquealed, “Morgan, where’d your dad go?”

Morgan shrugged. “I don’t know. He said he was going to take acall from nature.”

At the end of the Shore Havens Club dock, the pirate stood in hiswobbly motorboat, yanking the starter cord without result.

“Cripes,” he muttered.He tried once more. This time, it sounded as if the motor had

fired. In fact, the sound was more gunfire. Its source, he realized,was the trio of beefeaters clambering down the cedar-slatted gang-way to the dock. He decided to abandon motorboat.

The beefeaters heard his body crack the water. Then they heardnothing, and saw no sign of him. They swept the surface of the baywith flashlights awhile longer, until it occurred to them that, unlessthe pirate either had drowned or possessed Guinness Book–caliberlung capacity, he’d somehow made it out of the water.

They swung their flashlight beams back toward the gangway.Sure enough, watery footprints led up toward the clubhouse. Thebeefeaters raced that way.

The footprints disappeared into a row of topiary bushes. Seeingmovement in one (a skillfully carved hippopotamus), the beefeaterstook aim, but before they could order the pirate to come outwith hands up, they heard from within the bush, “Don’t shoot! Wesurrender!”

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The voice belonged not to the pirate, but to Joan of Arc. Thepuzzled beefeaters brushed aside a bough and found her lying onthe grass beneath the hippo’s hindquarters. She was now in thecostume more often associated with Lady Godiva. Also, she was inthe embrace of Pope Pius, naked himself but for his miter (or, asit’s more commonly known, “pope hat”). Other guests, having lostthe battle against curiosity, assembled on the terrace just above.Joan turned red with embarrassment. Pius (that mischievous DickieCregan) simply smoothed his hair. This was one of his career high-lights, and he wanted to look his best.

Not far from the hippo was a hedge shaved into a whale, includ-ing a cleverly rendered leafy spout. Wedged beneath the whale’sbelly, the pirate thanked his stars for this turn of events. He then ex-tricated himself from the hedge, scurried through shadows aroundthe clubhouse and portico, and happened upon the parking lot,which was packed with cars.

The pirate had never stolen a car and had no idea how to do it,but as the stars would have it, Queen Elizabeth’s Bentley was sittingright there, motor idling and windows down.

The pirate reached through the front window on the left side,unlocked the door, and climbed in, disbelieving his lucky stars allthe while. For good reason. Upon sitting, he recalled that the dri-ver’s seat in a British car was on the other side. His principal re-minder: the Bentley’s chauffeur, slumped there, snoring lightly.

The pirate reached across the chauffeur’s lap, opened his door,and attempted to shove him out of the car, but the stout fellow wasseat-belted in, tight.

Then things, as far as the pirate was concerned, got worse. Heheard men running into the parking lot. Evidently hearing them,too, the chauffeur woke up.

“Drive,” the pirate barked.The chauffeur rubbed sleep from his eyes.The pirate added, “Now!”Still drowsy, the chauffeur said, “Sorry, chief, you’re in the

wrong car.”

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“This is my car now,” the pirate declared, and for emphasis hewound his sword back through the open window and swung it,hacking the headrest clean off the chauffeur’s seat.

The chauffeur was now quite awake. Also eager to please. “Whereto, sir?”

“Anywhere.”The chauffeur grabbed at the clutch to shift into first gear. In

his fright he placed it in reverse. The Bentley flew back a car-length, crunching into an Oldsmobile and activating its shrill horn.

“Anywhere forward,” the pirate clarified.Before the chauffeur could comply, an odd tapping diverted his

attention. Both he and the pirate looked up to find the headbeefeater knocking on the windshield with the surviving half of hisplastic spear. He was accompanied by the other beefeaters, as wellas four Cape Bantam policemen.

The pirate slid down his seat. “This,” he sighed, “is why I don’tdo land jobs.”

Two hours later, the Oceanside Penny Arcade was dark and shut-tered. The last of Morgan’s birthday party guests was station-wagoned away by the last of the moms. She’d offered to driveMorgan home to Pensacola. He’d declined. His dad, he’d said,would return any second. His confidence had reassured her.

Morgan spent the next twenty minutes tightrope-walking theparking space lines in the empty lot, perking up with each pair ofapproaching headlights, only to be disappointed as they buzzedpast. He began to wonder what on earth prompted his father toleave the arcade in the first place.

Another half hour and another dozen pairs of wrong headlightslater, the boy wrapped his arms around himself to counter thedamp gusts off the gulf, and, weighted by sadness, he took a seat onthe curb. Unwittingly he activated the fart cushion he’d won. Itprovided him no solace.

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T wenty-seven summers later found Morgan hurrying towork. He’d grown into a man considered handsome by those

who could overlook the pallidness, the circles beneath his eyes, andthe slight hunch—the results of far too much time spent beneath afluorescent desk lamp, and far too little having fun. Moreover, thesadness from his vigil on the Oceanside Penny Arcade curb ap-peared to have been permanently etched into his features.

He was driving a Buick Skylark, a boxy model generally favoredby men twice his age. Another relative anachronism, pomade, en-sured that not a single one of his close-cropped hairs would deviatefrom its station on either side of his ruler-straight part. Althoughno one would have disputed that he was still a young man, it wasn’thard to imagine Morgan waking up one morning suddenly trans-formed into a senior citizen.

He wore a conservative tie and a proper dark gray business suitof moderate quality. Still burdened by huge tuition loan paymentsand other debts incurred from four years at Forbischer College of


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Accounting, Morgan was forced to shop at the sort of men’s storescalled Buddy’s or Chick’s or the possessive of some other name be-fitting a bookie. At those establishments much of the merchandisewas, inexplicably, water stained, and were a casting agent assignedto a Three Stooges re-make to have happened in, the salesmen wouldhave been the answer to his prayers.

Nonetheless, garmentally speaking, Morgan did the best hecould. He spared no expense on dry cleaning, and it showed. Hiswhite oxford cloth collars were starched to a shine.

As he drove, he was craning his neck through one such collar,which scratched him, in order to peer over the Skylark’s boxcar-sized hood. He was searching for a clearing in the thick Route 85traffic. Damnably, he found none.

On the radio the morning show guy wrapped up an interviewwith a local man known, according to himself, as “the CarpetCleaner to the Stars.” Then he delivered the weather report. “Asunny, sunny, sunny seventy-three degrees in downtown Miami . . . ”

Having long ago ceased regretting spending storybook summerdays inside an office, Morgan listened without emotion. Then themorning show guy added the following more pertinent piece ofnews: “ . . . at 8:46.”

The most important meeting Morgan had ever had was atnine sharp, eleven-and-a-half traffic-clotted miles away, includinga drawbridge that he took for granted, given his luck, would beraised.

His fury at not having left home earlier manifested itself in adisplay that those who knew him would have considered the outer-most limit of his emotional range. “Cripes,” he muttered.

Vail & Company employed over two thousand worldwide, most ofthem at the import-export concern’s Miami headquarters. A boldlywrought shaft of tempered steel and mirrored glass, the buildingevoked a sleek ocean liner.

At 9:17, the Skylark took the entrance to the parking lot as if it

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were the final turn at Indy. As Morgan had feared, all of the park-ing spaces within a quarter mile of the building—other than thehandicapped spots—were filled.

At 9:20, he finally found a free spot at the far end of the lot. Heparked his car and shot toward the nearest building entrance.

At 9:23, out of breath from both the run and repeated cripeses,Morgan produced his wallet from his suit coat and fished out hismagnetic-stripped ID card. He swiped it through the wall-mountedreader beside the door. The lock disengaged with a hiss.

Meetings started ten to fifteen minutes late. Coffee and smalltalk took, Morgan calculated, another eight or nine. He might stillbe in the safety zone. If he ran. He yanked open the door andtensed his knees to spring inside. Then he saw, reflected in thechrome frame, seventy-eight-year-old Isabel Vail tottering up fromthe parking lot.

Morgan contemplated pretending not to have noticed her. Yes,he would enter nonchalantly, then, once clear of the doorway,sprint down the corridor—he desperately needed to stop in themen’s room, but would forego it—and make it to the meeting.

He found himself holding the door open.Aside from a few trappings of wealth (a designer poplin dress,

a strand of pearls, and, in spite of the temperature, a cashmeresweater), Isabel Vail was the very portrait of wholesome Americangrandmotherliness, from her wee orthopedic shoes up—four feetand nine inches—to her soft, round head and fine, snowy hair tiedback in a bun. She even wore the half-moon glasses listed in the op-tician’s catalogue as “Grannies.” It was said that in her youngerdays Isabel was an exceptional beauty and actively involved in steer-ing the family business. Now her seat on the board of directors wasviewed as an activity intended to keep her life from consisting solelyof her weekly bridge game.

Seventy-four excruciating ticks of Morgan’s watch later, Isabelreached the entrance.

“How are you today, Mrs. Vail?” he asked pleasantly.“Why, just fine. Just fine, thank you.” She stopped a foot shy of

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the threshold and squinted up at him. “You’re Joseph from FrozenSeafood, right?”

“No, ma’am. I’m Morgan. Morgan Baker, from Accounting.”To his chagrin she remained outside and gazed skyward. “Mor-

gan, dear,” she said, “do you think it’s going to rain today?”Morgan looked at the sky. It was not just cloudless, but no-way-

there’s-even-a-wisp-of-one-in-the-entire-hemisphere cloudless. “Theweatherman said it’s supposed to be sunny,” he said.

Isabel reflected upon this for a moment, which seemed to Mor-gan to last a hundred moments. Then she said, “I never trust them.So I brought an umbrella. I thought I’d bring my violet one, tomatch my dress, you know, but I looked everywhere and couldn’tfind it. So I brought the one with daffodils on it.”

With herculean effort Morgan smiled. “Sounds pretty.”“It is. Very pretty. But I left it in the car. In the backseat. And my

driver just left. With the car.”“Well, then, why don’t you come inside before it starts raining?”“Good thinking.”Morgan waited, impatience stabbing at his intestines, as she

inched her way in. At that moment, a sporty new Porsche hummedoff Route 85 and into one of the handicapped spots. A fit, linen-suit-and-power-tie-clad young exec popped out. He kicked the cardoor shut with a loafer worth more than the entire calf from whichit was crafted, then fired his remote, engaging the locks and secu-rity system as he breezed toward the building’s entrance. There heslalomed around Isabel and, as if oblivious to Morgan, nudged pasthim and inside.

Morgan stood and watched, dismayed to once again find him-self the victim of this sort of a situation, but he eased his mind, ashe had many times in the past, with a reminder that life came withno guarantee of being fair.

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T he smattering of Floridian pastel notwithstanding, Vail &Company projected an old-world corporate might. The wide,

teak-paneled corridors were adorned with paintings visitors recog-nized from art history classes.

Morgan’s wing tips beat a hasty path down a long stretch of Ori-ental carpet. He pulled up outside the boardroom, allowing himselfto the count of five to regain some of his breath and mop both hisbrow and the pool of perspiration welling at the base of his neck.

Through the glass wall he saw the power-tie-clad Porsche drivernow ensconced at the long mahogany table alongside a dozen sim-ilarly dressed executives. Though they were mostly strangers toMorgan, he could tell that these men and women were cut from adifferent cloth than he—and not just in terms of business suit qual-ity and posture, or because they belonged to pricey fitness clubsand were getting their money’s worth. Unlike him, they exudedself-confidence. And most of them actually had it. They werepoised, brassy—smug even. There was no circumstance short of lifeor death in which one of them would want to be seen in a BuickSkylark, let alone with Morgan.

He tried to shake his insecurities by reciting to himself an apho-rism taught him by his mentor, Vail’s director of accounting, HerbFlick. Something about all people being equal. He was too nervousto remember so much as the first word.

The Porsche driver had the floor. “ . . . If McMenamin doesn’taccept our offer,” he was saying, “then, hell yeah, a raid’s the way togo.” He was pleased by the gleams in the eyes around the table.“And if that doesn’t work, I say we hire a private dick to find outwho McMenamin’s been fucking, get us some steamy snapshots,then invite Mrs. McMenamin to the bargaining table.”

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The others cackled, until interrupted by the groan of the door.Morgan entered, and, sheepishly, pushed the door shut behindhim. Full of apprehension, he looked to the head of the table.There Skip Vail, a sturdy, athletic young man wearing a customsuit and hand-stitched bow tie, considered him with coal blackeyes that were anything but warm. The others in the room ap-peared less friendly. Morgan, feeling beads of sweat wrestling withone another to get through his pores, toweled his face with hissleeve.

“Baker?” Skip asked, as if hoping otherwise.Although they’d been in meetings together twice before, Mor-

gan had guessed Skip wouldn’t remember him. “Sorry I’m late,”he said.

Skip pretended, though not too well, to be glad to see him. “Noproblem, old man, so long as you’ve brought your homework.”

Morgan knew the “old man” was meaningless prep-school-speak.Still, it made him painfully aware that Skip, the director of acquisi-tions, was six years his junior. Certain people attributed Skip’s rapidrise to nepotism. Those people hadn’t worked with him. Those whohad worked with him often compared him to a pit viper—highpraise in corporate raider circles. The sole reason Skip hadn’tclimbed higher on the company ladder was that his cousins alreadyoccupied the next rungs.

By “homework” Skip meant the numbers Morgan had beencrunching day, night, and in his dreams for the past week in or-der to analyze the viability of a hostile takeover of a canned catfood company. So intimidated was he by Skip, Morgan failed tofind words to reply to the question of whether he’d brought it—“Yes” would have sufficed. Instead, he displayed his briefcase andnodded—overeagerly, he feared, and the looks around the tableconfirmed it. Nevertheless, Skip waved, as a prince might, grant-ing Morgan the lone available chair.

“Ladies and gents,” Skip announced to his team, “Morgan Baker,from down in Accounting.”

Their welcome consisted of a lukewarm nod or two. To them

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the Accounting Department had all the appeal a library carrel hadto mountain climbers.

Morgan had wanted to be an accountant since he was nine yearsold. Before that, he’d juggled baseball player, astronaut, and seacaptain. The shift followed an informal survey he conducted ofhis classmates’ fathers. No matter that the job sounded, at itsmost exciting, tedious, Andy Flick’s dad, a CPA, swayed Morganwith the information that, “There is and always will be a steady de-mand for accounting.” The profession offered unrivaled safetyand security. “Even if there’s another Great Depression,” HerbFlick boasted, “folks’ll still need accountants because somebody’llhave to tabulate all the losses.”

Herb Flick not only believed in the American Work Ethic, hezealously avoided deviating from it. Monday through Friday, henever failed to wear a crisply creased, proper gray suit, a tightlyknotted conservative tie, and shiny black wing tips laced in symmet-rical loops. His close-cropped hair was kept that way by a standingweekly appointment at the barbershop at the top of Main Street. Henever entered a meeting without first freshening his breath with awintergreen Lifesaver. His temperance, carefully maintained conge-niality, and eager smile told bosses and clients, “I will never, ever,even under circumstances that would halt postal delivery, let youdown.” He was a loving family man and a good provider. He ownedan all-American four-bedroom-and-a-fireplace white colonial housewith a tidy lawn and a pristine white picket fence. He belonged to agood country club. He bought a brand-new Buick every other year.Herb Flick’s life became young Morgan Baker’s wish list.

Herb’s alma mater, Forbischer College of Accounting, in tiny,sedate Forbischer, Georgia, was one of a small handful of institu-tions of higher learning in the United States in the mid-1980s thatstill required students to wear coat and tie to class. There were nosports there, and no social life to speak of. One never heard stu-dents or alumni mention Forbischer in the same sentence as “fun.”

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(The exception would be: “We had fun at Forbischer the weekendwe drove up to the U. of Georgia to go to a fraternity party.”) Theclosest thing to a fraternity party at Forbischer was the Order ofMathematicians’ Coffee Night. Nevertheless, because Herb Flickproudly wore a Forbischer sweater, Morgan spent his high schoolyears dreaming of going there.

Morgan lived, during those years, with a foster couple, theBanes. They were paid by the state of Florida to house him, a factthat they kept secret from Morgan, though he guessed as much.His place in the pecking order was well south of that held by thedog, an incontinent schnauzer forced upon the Banes when theirtwenty-seven-year-old daughter went to live at a commune that onlyallowed cats. “Only way I’d write any checks for your college is ifyou gimme the money in cash first,” Morgan’s foster father, RalphBane, told him. It was one of their more tender moments.

Forbischer’s tuition perennially ranked in the nation’s toptwenty-five. Despite the impracticality of actually attending, Mor-gan mailed off his application the first day Forbischer acceptedthem, and, five months later, he was ecstatic upon receiving a letterinviting him to be part of the Class of 1989.

Amazingly, he managed to piece together—via financial aid,three separate higher-education loans, and a Pensacola Adding Ma-chine Club grant—funds sufficient for tuition and scant board. Theeffort required more fiscal resourcefulness than he would ever useas an actual accountant.

At Forbischer the Tax Club was Morgan’s only joy—“joy” beinga relative term. Morgan once jokingly suggested they recruit acheerleading squad to exhort the club members as they raced to fillout federal income tax forms. The club’s faculty advisor repliedthat this was “not a good idea as cheers would most likely distractthe students.”

Morgan’s time there was made palatable by the brass ring rep-resented by the diploma, and by Forbischer’s fantastic job place-ment record. As it turned out, the latter proved superfluous. At theend of Morgan’s freshman year, Herb Flick was lured from his

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small accounting firm in Pensacola by a serendipitous offer to runthe entire Accounting Department at Vail & Company in Miami.During the subsequent summer vacation, as well as his sopho-more and junior summers, Morgan interned there. Upon gradua-tion from Forbischer, he stood an excellent chance of landing atraining slot at a Big Four firm. His résumé was exactly what theywere looking for, from the high grade point average to the per-sonal interests—math, stamp collecting, and astronomy. Still, Mor-gan accepted an offer to work full-time at Vail & Company, in partout of loyalty to Herb, but mostly because the firm offered him theone-of-a-kind security of a three-year contract.

Morgan contentedly crunched numbers for those three years,and several more after that. Although cognizant that his greatesthigh at the office came from getting a new calculator, he neveronce contemplated that there might be something better.

Then one day he learned that in Vail & Company’s AcquisitionsDepartment he could earn end-of-the-year bonuses two to threetimes his annual salary as an accountant. Just one such bonuswould be a down payment on one of the white colonial houses henot only dreamed of, but spent weekends scouting up and downFlorida. In his dream it was in a neighborhood of similar—but nottoo similar—homes a comfortable distance apart from one another,each surrounded by a well-manicured lawn and a sparkling whitepicket fence. It was a place with wide walnut floorboards hand-hewn a century before dirt was broken on the first Home Depot. Ithad a worn sofa and rocking chairs and a pleasant scent of pine.It had walls brimming with books, which would be read each nightby Morgan and his bride, entangled on the braided woolen rug bythe wood-burning hearth, wearing only Forbischer sweatshirts. Notlong thereafter, it would have a playpen.

The only element of the dream Morgan had managed to attainwas the worn sofa. It, however, needed to be thrown out.

Morgan spent the ensuing year trying to maneuver his way ontoa takeover as an analyst, a customary first step toward a full-timejob in the Acquisitions Department. As his strategy evidenced, he

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wasn’t the aggressive sort. Not once did he articulate his desireto anyone with the power to effect it. Instead, he mentioned itto Herb.

Despite the utter lack of entertainment value, and despite thefact that his childhood friend Andy Flick had long ago moved toColorado, Morgan ate dinner with Herb and Mary Alice Flick atleast once a week, usually Saturday. One such night, when a pair ofscotches had supplied him with the requisite gumption, Morgantold Herb, “I’d think it’d be a good challenge to be part of atakeover team.”

“Probably,” Herb said, then reverted to one of his two preferredtopics of conversation: golf and accounting.

More than a year later, a financial analyst at Vail & Companywas stricken with hepatitis, creating an immediate need for some-one to crunch numbers. Morgan leapt at the opportunity. Vail &Company’s then director of acquisitions (and, not long thereafter,chairman), Avery Vail, wanted the company to have its own card-board box manufacturer so as to avoid having to pay others topackage its burgeoning line of frozen fish products.

Having read profit-and-loss statements for two weeks and, inthe process, having all but worn the characters off his adding ma-chine’s keys, Morgan recommended the venerable Sturdevant Pa-per Products Company, which, he believed, could be acquired at ashare price that would be a good deal for both parties. Avery hadno interest in that sort of deal. Days later, he successfully raidedbox maker Mintz & Sons at half the cost Morgan had estimated.Once at the helm, Avery sacked old man Mintz and his four sons.Morgan had advised against such a move because the Mintzes werebeloved by their employees. Within a month, however, the com-pany showed profits exceeding the space atop Morgan’s most opti-mistic forecast chart.

Upon Morgan’s dispirited descent back to Accounting, Herbsaid, by way of consolation, “There comes a point in life where afellow has to accept who he is, and if he’s an accountant, then he’sa lucky fellow.” As he often did, Herb added a pertinent aphorism:

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“The longer you wait on line, the greater the likelihood is thatyou’re on the wrong line.”

Although he thanked his mentor for the advice and returned inearnest to his tabulations, Morgan—his fiscal appetite whetted—continued to wait on the proverbial line. Two years later an analystat Vail & Company gave notice unexpectedly, creating an immedi-ate need for someone to number-crunch on the potential McMe-namin deal.

At 9:27, Morgan sat down at the conference table and tried to keephis hands from shaking as he removed the spreadsheets from hisbriefcase. “Um, okay,” he stammered, despite having rehearsed hispresentation so well that he could have sung it. “Assuming that ourfish stick factory will continue to produce excess fish parts at thesame rate it has for the past five years, thirty-five dollars a share forMcMenamin would be not just a good deal, but a steal. The problemis, it’s not a question of if, but, rather, when a recession will hit.Canned pet foods exhibit a tendency to swoon in recessionary times,because pet owners looking to economize will shift to less-expensivedry food.”

He saw that everyone at the table was sobered by this very realand theretofore unconsidered concern. Not only had he capturedtheir interest, he had won their gratitude. He continued with greaterassurance. “In that case the numbers become really alarming. . . . ”

He rifled through his pile of carefully crafted spreadsheets forthe one forecasting profits and losses. A moment later he found it.

When he looked up, however, he realized everyone’s focus hadshifted to Skip’s older and higher-runged cousin, Avery. UnlikeMorgan, Avery had somehow managed to open the heavy doorwithout so much as ruffling a carpet fiber. As he entered the board-room, Morgan, like everyone else, watched with a reverence bor-dering on awe.

At forty-seven, Avery Vail weighed just four pounds more (and allof it muscle) than he did in his strapping days of lacrosse stardom at

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Princeton. He shared Skip’s dark features, but if the Vail gene poolrecipe was for tall, dignified, artfully chiseled, square-jawed prog-eny frequently mistaken on the street for soap opera leading men,Skip had come out of the oven too soon, whereas Avery was bakedto perfection. Society columns had for so long preceded his namewith “the debonair” that it had practically become his title. Evenmore incredible, he had the mental acuity to match his physical at-tributes. In sum, his very existence instructed even the most elitelyschooled, healthiest, and most happily married of the wildly suc-cessful men and women at the table that life was a lottery and thatthey simply did not hold the winning ticket.

As Avery strode toward the conference table, wearing his habit-ual expression of guilty whimsy, which seemed to say, “Sorry, this isall just too easy for me,” it crossed Morgan’s mind that the soles ofhis loafers came into contact with the floor only out of modesty.

Skip popped up, offering his cousin his chair. Avery waved himoff, instead taking a lean against a column in a manner that con-jured ads in men’s fashion magazines.

“We talking McMenamin?” he asked. His baritone had a raspthat, Morgan mused, had resulted from constantly having to spurnwomen’s advances.

“Yes,” Skip said. “Mr. Baker here is telling us a raid is too risky.”Avery scoffed. “That’s why Mr. Baker is an accountant.”Morgan suddenly became the target of a couple of forestalled

snickers and a roomful of haughty looks. Feeling as though his hearthad tumbled into his stomach, he quietly gathered his spreadsheetsand dropped them back into his briefcase.

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Had it not been for the neon Bud signs in the windows, passers-by would have taken Ib’s Pub for a storm-battered boathouse.

The interior called to mind that of a tugboat. This was neither in-tentional nor in any way charming. Needless to say, the glam factorat Ib’s was not high. The regular clientele consisted of older dock-workers—most of whom smelled like fish—and Morgan.

Eight hours removed from his boardroom misadventure, collarunbuttoned, knot of his tie loosed halfway down his shirtfront,Morgan was hunched at Ib’s eroding bar over a half-empty pint oflight beer. Making a concerted effort to avoid thinking about all as-pects of his life, he was unaware that Phyllis, the bartender, had hereye on him.

Phyllis was in her early forties. She was pretty. Once. The mile-post where the job perks (read: free tequila) took a toll—she’dpassed it a couple miles ago. She’d been watching Morgan—gazingat him, really—for the better part of an hour, envisioning them onher couch later in the evening.

Meanwhile, in the dart pit, an old salt, a visitor from anotherport, executed a schooled rendition of the traditional overhandtoss. His Union Jack–winged graphite dart reached the peak of itsarc midway to the target, then dipped gracefully, enabling the steeltip to ease into the outer ring of the eighteen-point pie slice. Twoothers sat in the fifteen. The salt smiled, displaying two incompleterows of teeth.

Morgan, mentally replaying Avery’s pronouncement for some-thing like the seventy-third time, didn’t react. It was by rote that hegulped back the remainder of his pint, lumbered over to the pit,and took the salt’s place at the throwing line.

He scooped one of the grimy, wooden-shafted house darts from

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the dented Sanka can nailed to the wall. Not in the mood to aim,he simply threw—with an unorthodox sidearm motion.

The dart left his fingertips like a laser beam and bored into theinnermost circle of the bull’s-eye with such force that bits of corkpopped out.

The old salt’s eyes bulged.Morgan, craving a return to the bar and another beer, hastily

flung the second dart. It gouged into the bull’s-eye, right beside thefirst. A moment later a third dart joined them.

The salt retreated to the bar as if in a trance. “Three doublebulls,” he said numbly. “I’d sooner believe I’d seen the VirginMother walk in and buy me a Bloody Mary.”

“He’s got quite a gift, Morgan does,” Phyllis purred.“Not really,” Morgan said. “I’ve just spent too much time in this

place.”Having thus called to mind the depressing fact that escapism at

Ib’s filled the better part of his social calendar, Morgan realizedthat, ironically, he could no longer expect to achieve any signifi-cant measure of escapism there that night. He had just one morepint and left.

Around ten, Morgan drove into Pelican Acres. As usual he waved toIvan in the tiny gatehouse. Either distracted by a ballgame on hisportable TV or, more likely, asleep, the guard didn’t wave back.

As the Pelican Acres housing complex was thirty-six miles in-land, it was doubtful a real pelican had ever set webbed foot there.Morgan had concluded that it had been named for the threepainted plaster pelicans who stood in the central fountain, which,regrettably, appeared not to have been cleaned since the com-pound was built in 1962.

Morgan moved there in 1992 with his then girlfriend Bonnie,who convinced him to split the rent with her on a lizard green one-bedroom condo. Though the rent exceeded their budget, Morgan

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was swayed by the fact that Pelican Acres had uniformed gateguards. (He later learned, then chose to overlook, that they weresupplied by a security guard company that, apparently, only em-ployed boozers.)

Ironically, just a week after they moved in, Bonnie took up withone of the gate guards and split. She didn’t leave Morgan entirelyin the lurch. She used a bunch of his Band-Aids to stick a brief noteof explanation and five ten-dollar bills to the bathroom mirror. Atthe time, the rent was six hundred a month. Morgan wanted topunch the mirror. Being the more reserved sort, he crumpled thenote. He suffered a severe paper cut, for which he didn’t have aBand-Aid.

He decided to incur more debt to remain at Pelican Acres—hisgaunt credit card could, barely, compensate for Bonnie. The uni-form reptilian hue notwithstanding, he was taken by the wholesomeAmerican ranch-style units and the bright-eyed young professionalstherein, many with toddlers. Although he seldom used them, he en-joyed the swimming pool and two tennis courts and the GameRoom, which consisted of a warped Ping-Pong table. Morgan likedto think it had gotten that way from constant use by happy kids.Had a young Herb Flick begun his career in the Miami area, Mor-gan ventured, he surely would have lived at Pelican Acres.

After Bonnie left, Morgan lived alone. Eleven years passed, andthe surrounding neighborhood went to pot. Literally. Among otherdrugs. Now, at just $665 monthly, the rent was so good that Morgancouldn’t afford to leave—particularly if he wanted to continue pay-ing the dues at the Grapefruit Cove Golf Club. Despite several clin-ics and dozens of lessons with each of the three pros, Morgan hadnever gotten the hang of the game, nor did he ever enjoy it. ButHerb Flick belonged to Grapefruit Cove.

Morgan parked the Skylark outside his unit and carried in agrease-speckled bag from Taco World, where, for the past fewmonths, he’d effectively been on the meal plan. His New Year’s res-olution had been to eat healthily. And he had—well into January.

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Inside the unit, the furnishing was about as lavish as that of a fra-ternity house, a function of economics more than bachelorhood—aclassic six-piece living room set topped Morgan’s immediate wishlist. The decorating consisted only of an antique model ship on themantel and a few framed sayings like: PEOPLE WHO DON’T HAVE NIGHT-MARES DON’T HAVE DREAMS, which the Flicks had given him. Herb wasa fan of such maxims and kept plenty in view both at home and inthe office. “They keep a fellow balanced,” Herb said.

Morgan tossed his suit coat onto the hook by the door. It beingthat sort of day, he missed. It being that sort of day, he put off re-trieving it from the floor in order to get a drink. His plan was to en-ter his immaculate kitchenette and reach into the refrigerator.Without having to look, he would grab the lone remaining bottleof light beer from the six-pack. He would pop it open, revel for amoment in the rush of cold beery effervescence, then flick the bot-tle cap into the recycling bin and retreat to the living room, where,after brushing off and hanging his suit coat, he would sink into thesofa for his customary several hours of whatever escapist fare hap-pened to be on the free movie channels. As he happily recalled,there was something special on one of them tonight.

Suddenly he froze.Someone was on the back porch, lurking in the shadows.The intensity of the pounding of Morgan’s heart made it a chal-

lenge to stay afoot.The figure stepped into the light. It was the man last seen (out-

side prison walls) at the Shore Havens Yacht Club Costume Ball, ina pirate costume. His face was still angular, but softer, his framestill wiry, but withered—like that of a wild tiger long ago stuck in aminor-league zoo. His smart, sunny hair had been transformedinto a turbulent sea of white; his face was a road map of wrinklesand creases—mostly from scowling. His eyes, formerly sparklingblue advertisements of audacity, were now set deeper, shaded by athicker, chalkier brow, and offering as much warmth and allure asa back alley.

Morgan struggled to find his voice. “Dad?” he croaked.

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“I almost didn’t recognize you,” the man said. “I was looking fora boy.”

Indeed, they’d last seen one another through a three-inch-thickslab of Plexiglas at the Northern Florida State Correctional Facility,in 1977. Their final contact, a year or so later, was a letter from Mor-gan that contained a newspaper account of a Little League baseballgame, complete with a grainy team photo. Morgan never received aresponse.

Morgan’s shock was supplanted by wariness. “What happened?”he asked. “Did you bust out of jail?”

“They finally sprung me. Can you believe it?”Morgan stood at the door without opening it. “If someone else

were to verify it . . . ”If Isaac Baker had hoped for a more effusive greeting, he didn’t

show it. Then again, Isaac had never worn his heart on his sleeve. Infact, Morgan recalled, the sonofabitch wore a dagger—the tattooon his forearm.

For that reason, when Isaac turned, visibly apprehensive, to scanthe street, Morgan scrutinized it, too. Anything that worried Isaac tothe extent it actually showed, Morgan thought, would likely stop hisown heart. The street, though, was empty.

Uneasy nonetheless, Isaac said, “Could I come inside?”Morgan could think of no scenario whereby that would help

matters or in any way be good. “What do you want?” he asked.“Bit of a story there.”“Just tell me the part about why you’re here.”“When I was released this morning, outside the prison gate,

there were two men waiting for me. They were waiting in ambush.”“Other sons of yours?”“Pirates, probably.”Morgan didn’t believe this, to put it mildly. “In prison,” he asked,

“did you participate in one of those programs where they give youexperimental drugs?”

Isaac squinted, which Morgan recognized as indignation. “Oneof them,” Isaac said, “had a hook for a hand.”

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“A lot of people do. We have a guy at work with one.”“They’re after my treasure,” Isaac said. Reading Morgan’s skep-

ticism, he conceded, “I know it’s hard to believe.”“I believe that the prison had a gate.”“If you let me in, just for a bit, I’ll explain. . . . ” Finding Morgan’s

face as soft as granite, he scanned the street again. Not a vehicle orcreature was stirring. Still, his anxiety remained. “There ain’t muchtime. Please, lad.”

Morgan reviewed an extensive mental list of reasons not to, yet,for reasons unknown to him, he opened the door.

Isaac bounded into the kitchen. He wore a stiff white shirt andblue suit pants that looked to Morgan to have been sewn fromindustrial carpet fibers. Parting gifts, no doubt, from the state ofFlorida. To Morgan’s annoyance, Isaac flung open the refrigerator.“Just help yourself,” Morgan said.

Isaac eyed the lone remaining bottle of light beer. “Don’t yougot any real beer?”

“Terribly sorry, no.”Isaac grabbed it anyway, an instant before Morgan snapped the

refrigerator shut.“Ain’t had a beer for twenty-seven years,” Isaac said.Yet, with one finally in his grasp, he exhibited no trace of what

Morgan, recalling Isaac’s affinity for the beverage, imagined wouldbe unadulterated bliss. Prison, Morgan suspected, had made himeven harder than he was before. Although Morgan had seen first-hand just how far the Northern Florida State Correctional Facilitywas from cushy, he’d always thought that his indomitable fatherwould soften it. He’d imagined choruses of sea chanties warmingcold cell blocks. By the looks of him, though, Isaac had had fewsuch moments there, if any. Which was good. He deserved it.

Isaac tried to open the bottle by whacking the cap against theedge of Morgan’s lovingly pine-scent-polished Formica countertop.

“It’s a twist-off,” Morgan shrieked.He found, fortunately, no damage to the counter. His anger

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subsided as he witnessed the fascination with which Isaac experi-enced what, for him, was a technological advance: the twist-off bot-tle cap.

When Isaac flicked the cap off a wall, Morgan reheated. It rico-cheted, nicking a cabinet, before lodging into the bar of Ivory inthe soap caddy by the sink. Morgan plucked it out, and, making noeffort to veil his irritation, fired it into the recycling bin. Amblingout, Isaac exhibited no sign of having noticed.

Morgan found Isaac in the living room. He was inspecting thedécor—or lack thereof. Morgan read his pursed lips as disap-pointment. At the same time Morgan recalled that, unless it waspart of a bamboozle, the range of emotions Isaac made plain toothers was only slightly greater than that of a fish. Where anotherman might cry or holler for an hour, all the while smashing dishesand television sets, Isaac would show a trace of red in his cheeks,and that’d be it. Accordingly, Morgan wondered what the bam-boozle was tonight.

“You still counting beans for the fish stick company?” Isaac asked.The contempt in his voice struck Morgan like a blow, and led

him to rule it foolish to continue harboring a potentially danger-ous criminal, not to mention an insolent one. Then it struck him ascurious that Isaac knew about his job.

“Fish sticks,” Morgan said defensively, in spite of himself, “is justone of twenty-two divisions. Vail & Company is a major interna-tional conglomerate.”

Isaac took a slug of beer as if to treat his disappointment. “Lad,”he said, “how’d you wind up working as a bean counter at a con-glomerate?”

“With a little luck, I could make VP in a couple of years.”“VP,” Isaac said, unimpressed. “Impressive.”He then plopped onto the sofa with a satisfied sigh, and, to

Morgan’s irritation, he hoisted his dusty shoes onto the freshlypine-scent-waxed coffee table.

“Know what your problem is, lad?” Isaac asked. Then, without

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giving Morgan a chance to respond, he told him. “You got the sea—you got pirate—in your blood. It’s just been misdirected, that’s all.”

So, Morgan thought, he really believes the pirate crap! “Myproblem,” Morgan said, “is that I’ve got a wackjob, with his filthy feeton my coffee table, telling me what my problem is.” To remedy thishe marched across the room and tore a phone book from a shelf.

“Okay, okay,” Isaac said, extra nice, “how about we start over?”“I’m calling you a cab. Unless you’ve ‘acquired’ a car.”Isaac shook his head from side to side.Morgan copied AAAA Taxi’s phone number from the yellow

pages onto a notepad. “Where’s it taking you?”“Actually, I could use a place. Just for the night.”“No problem. I’ll recommend a hotel.”He flipped the yellow pages to H.“Just listen to this first,” Isaac begged. “How’d you be interested

in a third-share of $42.7 million worth of gold ingots?”The thought of $14,233,333.33 struck Morgan’s fancy. Then

again, at least once a week he received an envelope notifying him,in big gold letters, that he was the lucky winner of more than fivetimes that amount. He estimated the junk mail exponentially morelikely than Isaac to yield a penny. Furthermore, even in the wildlyunlikely scenario that Isaac’s millions in gold did exist, Morgan fig-ured he could trust him as far as he could throw him. Prone tosuch estimates, Morgan calculated that distance, accounting for hisown poor physical condition, at about three-and-a-half feet. Sumtotal: He scribbled the number and address of a hotel onto thenotepad.

Isaac watched, seemingly stunned at Morgan’s lack of interest.“That’s at yesterday’s rate,” he said. “Could be up to forty-five mil-lion today.”

“Let me guess. You made it selling Amway products from jail?”“No. I pirated it. Thirty-six years ago. From smugglers in the Ca-

ribbean.”“Back when you were a pirate?”

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“Aye,” Isaac said, for effect.It had the wrong effect. Morgan glanced at the yellow pages and

said, “I should be looking under M.”“Motels?”“Mental institutions.”Isaac appeared stung. Morgan regretted having been too harsh

on an old man who was very likely a victim of mental illness. “Lis-ten, Isaac,” he said, “this is what happened. Twenty-seven years ago,you went to a costume party—let’s set aside the reason why for themoment. You were dressed as a pirate.”

“Where do you think I got the outfit?”“A store?”“Nope. I already owned it.”“Oh. Well then, that clinches it. You’re a pirate.”Isaac acknowledged, with a chuckle, that that wasn’t the best

substantiation he could have provided. “Know how I always toldyou how, when you were a baby, we moved to Pensacola from Cleve-land?” he asked.

“Yes.”“Well, I lied.”“There’s a change of pace.”Isaac ignored the barb. “We came from the Sugar Islands,” he

said. He saw that the name meant nothing to Morgan. “It’s a smallrange in the Caribbean that doesn’t make it onto even the bigmaps. Much as I wanted to, I couldn’t tell you about it. Had to keepit a secret to protect our true identity. Our last name’s not reallyBaker. It’s Cooke. As in the great Pirates Cooke.”

This, too, held no significance for Morgan, which seemed todismay Isaac. It did, however, remind Morgan of something heconsidered relevant. “This woman I work with,” he said, “she wentto visit her father in his nursing home last week. He told her thatfrom 1961 to 1978 he had secretly been Santa.”

“Difference is Santa doesn’t really exist.”“I knew that way before the other kids,” Morgan snapped.

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Spurred by a rush of Christmas memories he wished he didn’t have,he snatched up the phone to call the cab.

Isaac, though, clung to the point, asking, “You never thought itstrange that we had no relatives come around?”

“Not at all. I figured they’d gotten to know you.”“What about all the stories of sailors your mother used to tell?”“The difference between you and me—one of the differences—

is that I knew they were just stories.”“You know ships still get raided in some parts of the world, yes?”As he dialed, Morgan replied, “By crooks in fast boats, sure. I’ve

read about it.”“Why’s it so hard to believe I’d’ve done it?”Morgan stopped dialing. Isaac had a point there. Plus, the guy

did have a tattoo of a ship on his arm, an affinity for sailing, andan extensive knowledge of maritime lore likely acquired outsideof Cleveland. Also, he was a crook.

“Piracy’s especially big down in the Sugar Islands,” Isaac ex-plained. “Or at least it was forty years back. A lot of the small com-monwealths there couldn’t afford to build or maintain navies, sothey turned a blind eye to their own native pirates in the hopethey’d keep the local waters free of smugglers and such.”

Intrigued, Morgan placed the phone back on the cradle. Forthe moment.

Isaac happily continued. “I did some crewing on pirate boats,had a few decent scores as captain of my own. And one big one. Itcame the year you were born, 1967. Off the coast of Bermuda—a brig called the Lady Gertrude, bound for Brazil, sailed by theHoods.”

“Which hoods?”“Hood is a family name. And couldn’t be a more fitting one.

Historically, they were two-bit pirates and slave traders. In the six-ties, they were running dope for the what’s-their-names . . . theGaxzoncas.”

With the last name Isaac mentioned, Morgan’s skepticism

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returned full-bore. “I think you read about them in a men’s mag-azine,” he said.

Out of necessity Isaac spelled out the name, then explained,“They’re Brazilian drug dealers. Carved their niche in the highschool market. Lord knows to what new depths of mire the Hoods’vesunk since. But it was their men that tried to get me this morn-ing.”

“Why?”“I’m telling you. I took their gold.”“So you’re saying you’ve had forty-some million worth of gold

all these years?”“Right after plundering the Lady Gertrude—the Hood brig—I

stowed the gold in a cave on a tiny, completely uncharted isle downin the Lower Sugars. Next day, when I got home to Plantayne, theisland where we lived, I got wind that a cutter from the Braziliannavy was looking for me. To arrest me. Obviously, the cutter’s cap-tain was on the Hoods’ payroll. But you don’t want to be scrappingwith the Brazilian navy under any circumstance. So I decided you,me, and your mom—Lord rest her—had best lam it north at once,and wait ’til the heat died before going back for the gold. But oncewe were here . . . ”

“You ran into an unexpected delay,” Morgan said. He meant theunexpected twenty-seven-year delay.

“Pretty much so, yes. But now, that major international conglom-erate you work for—their yacht’d be perfect.”

So that, Morgan realized, was what this was about. Isaac some-how had learned about the company yacht, and he had shown upbecause, for some reason, he wanted it. Although he’d expected noless, Morgan felt as though he’d eaten something rotten.

“It’d get us down into the Sugars without drawing notice,” Isaaccontinued, “then let us access the treasure island, which is in themiddle of nowhere planes go. . . . ”

“First, it’s not mine,” Morgan said. He thought it pitifulhow poorly Isaac had thought this through. “The Accounting

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Department doesn’t exactly have yacht privileges. And, even if wedid, you think I’d let you take her to the Caribbean?”

Evidently, this was not the response Isaac had anticipated. Heproceeded to get up and pace the room, as if trying to formulate anew tactic. Reading the framed SMILE AND THE WORLD WILL SMILE

WITH YOU! didn’t help. He looked like he might gag.He continued pacing until coming to the model ship on the man-

telpiece. She was a complete sloop—as opposed to a half-model—replete with sails, rigging, and gear. The fastenings, the planking,the lines—even the blocks and sheaves—were all meticulouslyhandcrafted. The wheel actually spun, the rudder turned, and theportholes snapped open, enabling Isaac to peer inside, where, pertradition of the finest model makers, the hold was stowed withdrums, ballast, and spare gear and the galley fitted with tiny uten-sils and mess implements.

Isaac whistled. “She musta cost you.”“Not the most intelligent purchase,” Morgan said.It seemed to provide Isaac inspiration. “Another reason for us

sailing down together,” he told Morgan, “is it’d be nice if me andyou spent some, what do they call it, ‘quality time.’ ”

Morgan responded with a roll of his eyes, which was an under-statement.

Isaac proceeded undaunted. “Before I went upriver, you knowwhat was my greatest joy?”

Morgan took a halfhearted guess. “Beer?”Isaac laughed. “No. The times out in the boat. Just us two lop-

ers. You were a natural for the sea.”“I liked it,” Morgan admitted.The boat indeed provided him some warm recollections. He

had looked forward to going out all week long. The first thing hedid upon arriving home from school on Friday afternoons was pre-pare the “biscuit and hardtack” (a Pensacola variation more com-monly known as salami sandwiches) to take along the next day.Finally Saturday morning would arrive. They would fish, sing seachanties, have sword fights with boughs of seaweed. In his own

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crusty way, Isaac was quite loving—or so Morgan thought. Butthen . . .

“But then,” Morgan snarled, “the boat became State’s Exhibit B.”“And so now what’s become of you?” Isaac asked. “You want to

be a VP?” He dragged out “V” and “P” so as to fill them with disdain.“Yes,” Morgan replied. “That, and the things it makes possible.

A nice house, financial stability, family—things I’ve never had.”Isaac scoffed. “You’d be bored with that malarkey by the end of

the first day.”“Look, maybe it isn’t as fulfilling as jail. . . . ”“I know those VPs. Knew ’em back in Pensacola. Drones! Every

morning, year in, year out, they lace up their uncomfortable shoes,stuff ’emselves into their starched shirts and suits and choking ties,then lug their briefcases, catch the same bus or sit in the same traf-fic jam—all to go to a job that wastes away the sunshine, never re-ally pays enough, and gives ’em little or no joy. Then, at night, poorswabs do the same cruise in reverse, only to come home to the pre-dictable problems of family life—the house needing repairs, thelawn needing mowing, the neighbor needing killing. . . . ”

Some of this rang true to Morgan. Upon further reflection, heattributed it merely to his frustrations of that day. Reason managedto prevail, and he declared, “After you went upriver, when I wasstuck in the state homes, I would’ve given anything for those prob-lems, let alone one of those drones.”

A few minutes later, having asked Isaac never to return and to losethe address, Morgan watched him slide into the backseat of a yel-low cab bound for the Acme Motor Lodge. Inexplicably, Isaac waswhistling a happy tune.

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T hat night Morgan slept fitfully when he slept at all. In themorning, a long shower failed to revive him. Then he noticed,

on his dresser, the Dale Carnegie quote Herb had xeroxed for him.Morgan had been meaning to tape it to the mirror. Enthusiasm, itasserted, is the quality that most frequently makes for success.

With that in mind, Morgan stood straighter, chose an especiallycrisp white shirt, donned a pair of gray suit pants fresh from thedry cleaner’s, and hoisted them aloft with smart suspenders. Thenhe laced on his favorite tie—the one the Flicks had given him theprevious Christmas, with golf clubs crossed like swords—and knot-ted it with a bold dimple. Strangely, no matter how much he fid-dled with it, the tie felt tight.

In his kitchenette Morgan unenthusiastically munched his waythrough his usual bowl of cereal. He decided it would be healthiestto write off last night’s encounter as no more than a bad moviehe’d seen on TV. He then recalled that, ironically, it had been Cap-tain Blood, the old Errol Flynn pirate flick, that he’d been meaningto watch.

Next he drove to work, though “drove” would not have been hischoice of words as it implies motion. As usual, traffic on 85 wasbumper to fender. As the perky morning show guy forecast “a sunny,sunny, sunny day,” Morgan, despite having repeatedly remindedhimself that doing so would be counterproductive, wondered whatwould become of Isaac. He supposed another botched crime wouldland him back “upriver.”

Lost in such thoughts, he failed to see that an entire car-length’s worth of asphalt had opened ahead of him. The observanttrucker behind him, however, did notice, and set things right by

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pounding his horn—which was loud enough to wake the clients inthe nearby mortuary—eight times.

At the entrance to Vail & Company nearest the parking lot, Morganproduced his wallet from his suit coat, fished for his ID card, and,oddly, came up empty. He rifled through the rest of his pockets tosimilar exasperating result. Though he couldn’t imagine how thecard could have wound up there, he looked in his briefcase, too. Ithadn’t wound up there.

As Morgan girded himself for the perspiration-inducing quarter-mile walk around the building to the main entrance, where the re-ceptionists would wave him in, Herb Flick bounded up, holdingforth his own ID card as if it were the key to the gates of heaven.

“Lucky thing I came, no?” Herb chirped.Morgan, comforted by the familiar gust of wintergreen and the

cream with which Herb regimented his hair, offered a chipper,“Sure is.” His underlying melancholy, however, wasn’t lost on hismentor.

“I heard about the Acquisitions meeting yesterday, champ,”Herb said, clapping a supportive hand on Morgan’s shoulder andpropelling him inside. “Just remember, a frown takes forty-threemuscles, but a smile takes only seventeen.”

An appreciative Morgan deployed his muscles accordingly as heand Herb walked into the Accounting Department and its fanfareof chatter, snapping keyboards, and quacking phones. Morganthought the sounds soothing.

Still, once he sat down to work, for some reason he couldn’t con-centrate. Not enough sleep, he guessed. At the simulated wood deskin the small, plastic-walled cubicle he considered a second home, hefound himself, for the however-many-eth time that morning, staringat his computer screen without having read more than a word ortwo. He leaned back and kicked up his feet to take a break.

Just then Herb popped his head through the doorway. Herb

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may have been a friend, but he was also the boss, and one wholiked to recite eight different maxims on the evils of sloth. Morganshot bolt upright in his chair, as if that might, in Herb’s mind, rele-gate his previous posture to a momentary trick of the eye.

It didn’t. Regardless, per a note taken in a management semi-nar, Herb affected a warm smile and said, “Sorry to interrupt yourtoil, junior.”

“No problem, Herb. How’s it going?”“Great, great, great. Except for this call I just got from Mackey

Reade—you know, head of Marketing. I told him it must just besome sort of misunderstanding, as, certainly, you’re well aware youdon’t have the authorization. He’d just called Dolphin Cove to re-serve for this evening and was told that you had already signed forthe keys to the Big Fish!”

Morgan recalled that that was the name of the company yacht.Then, all of a sudden, he realized what had happened to his ID card.

The Big Fish was a sleek white fiberglass fifty-four-foot Heinzigerlow-profile cruising yacht powered by twin-inboard ten-cylinderdiesel engines. Her sprawling stern deck featured plush loungeseating, a freestanding dining table with six chairs, and a wet bar.For many years she saw repeated action as the site of Avery Vail’ssundown daiquiri soirées. The captain and mate stood a few stepsup, on the bridge, where the controls were nestled behind a high-framed glass windshield replete with wipers. Below, Haiki, Avery’spersonal French-Vietnamese chef, prepared sumptuous meals in agalley with amenities more deluxe than those in 95 percent of Amer-ican homes. If not under the stars, dinner was served at the ma-hogany dining room table, which comfortably accommodated eight.The Big Fish also boasted three heads, two cabins appointed withrich teak cabinetry, and a master stateroom with a fully equipped en-tertainment center and a king-sized bed. The last saw repeated ac-tion during Avery’s postsundown soirées. The invitees were,invariably, models. This came to an end in 1998. That’s when Avery

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upgraded to a custom-built Heinziger 196-footer, which, relativelyspeaking, enabled one to avoid roughing it so much. The Big Fishwas left to other Vail executives.

Now, as she bobbed alongside the Dolphin Cove Marina’s float-ing dock, Isaac heaved a battered, battleship gray sea chest over thestern railing. It landed on the deck with a thunk Morgan felt a hun-dred yards away as he sprang out of the Skylark.

Catching sight of him, Isaac hurried aboard and released thelines. Boiling to begin with, Morgan was further riled by the saltwa-ter that splashed between the bouncing duckboards onto his freshlydry-cleaned pants. Before he was even halfway to the Big Fish, Isaacascended the bridge. Morgan feared he was too late.

Once at the helm, though, Isaac appeared to experience theshocking realization that there had been a radical change in pi-loting technology since he had last been aboard a motorized yacht.The digital fathometer and radar unit plainly mystified him, and heseemed to have even less idea what the hell the Loran and satellitenavigational aids were. Finding the ignition was more than enoughtrouble. By the time he finally managed to do so and had broughtthe engines bubbling to life, Morgan had leapt onto the stern.

Isaac looked down from the bridge as if pleasantly surprised tosee him. “Oh, good,” he said, “I was just about to call you.”

Morgan screamed, “You stole my ID card and—”“I didn’t steal it,” Isaac interrupted with indignation. “Why would

anyone steal an ID card? You can’t fence an ID card. I borrowed it.”“—and now you’re stealing my company’s yacht!”“It’s not as if I didn’t invite you along.”“I’m going to invite the police along, too. Hope you don’t mind.”Isaac stood for a moment and stroked his chin. Then, appear-

ing remorseful, he cut the engines, removed the key from the igni-tion, and tossed it down to Morgan.

“Listen, lad,” he said, full of contrition, “tell you the truth, I’vebeen so caught up in getting down to the Sugar Islands, I didn’tconsider, ’til now, how this might affect you. I don’t expect any for-giveness, but, for what it’s worth, know that I’m sorry.”

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If Isaac had expected this would soften Morgan, he was disap-pointed. Dismissing the penitence as part of a new bamboozle,Morgan’s response was a steely, “Good.”

“I’ll find me some other way down there.”“Good.”“And I’ll get out of your life.”Morgan began to say, “Good” once more, but ruled it too harsh.“Tell you what,” Isaac said, “just so’s we don’t part like this, what

say you, we find us a pub and I buy you a nice, cold light beer?”“It’s ten in the morning,” Morgan said.

Half an hour later Morgan and Isaac were sitting across from oneanother in the ample corner booth at the Compass Rose, the smallcoffee shop overlooking the marina. The waitress cleared the re-mains of Isaac’s scrambled eggs, onto which he’d dumped morehot sauce than any five customers she’d ever seen. Morgan had or-dered only a mug of decaffeinated coffee. Still lingering over it, hewas charmed, despite himself, by Isaac’s narration—Morgan wassure most of it was delusional—of “days spent sailing beneath thewarm sun, and nights spent on coral islands fringed with coconutpalms, the sounds and smell of the jungle, the taste of salt in theair, and us pirates sprawled out on soft, silvery sand lapped bygolden surf, a jug of rum in one hand, beautiful girl in the other.”

“Sounds slightly nicer than my cubicle,” Morgan said.“I tell you, lad, you’d love it down there.”Morgan didn’t consider it. His own mention of work had

prompted him to eye the clock on the wall above the fryer hood. Ittold him that he needed to hurry back to reality and give MackeyReade’s secretary the boat keys.

“Well, maybe some other time,” he said, gulping down the re-mainder of his coffee.

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A faint cry of seabirds woke Morgan. He was sprawled, he re-alized, on the stern of the Big Fish, his face stuck to the deck by

his own sweat. Once he’d managed to pry it free, he saw, throughcobwebs, that there were no other boats in sight, nor anything elsefor that matter, except for blue water and sky.

Gradually, Isaac came into focus on the bridge. He’d changedfrom his state-of-Florida-issued suit into a pair of sailor’s knickers,rid himself of his state-issued shirt—likely, overboard—and rein-serted the gold hoop earring last worn at the party in 1976. As theyacht flew at her top speed of twenty-five knots, his hair flappedlike a white cape, and his face and body glistened in the sea spray.An even greater change in his appearance was attributable to thebliss, the thrill, the whirl, of once again sitting in a captain’s chair,bounding over whitecaps and breathing deeply of hot, salty air ashe provided distance between himself and gray terra firma.

Morgan, in contrast, felt as if someone had inserted a cinderblock into his skull—through an ear. He combated a seemingly salt-caked windpipe to croak, “Where are we?”

“Passed Havana about two bells ago.”Morgan struggled to his feet, then leaned over the starboard

rail and threw up.“Weak stomach, ey?” Isaac chuckled.“No. What was in that coffee?”“Nothing that won’t do you good.”Seeking to turn off the shower of perspiration he was giving

himself, Morgan tried to remove his suit coat, but couldn’t becausehis wrists had been bound together, in front of him, by thick,braided nylon cord. His resulting groan drew no notice from Isaac.

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The warmth Isaac had displayed at the marina and, subsequently,at the coffee shop had vanished altogether. It had merely been tacti-cal, Morgan realized. He was enraged with himself for having failedto realize it sooner. At the same time, additional rage, directed to-ward Isaac, swelled within him at a rate and volume he’d never be-fore experienced. Ultimately it drowned out the rest of his thoughts,and, next thing he knew, he was rushing the bridge.

Or trying to. After just a few strides he was snapped back to-ward the railing. His right ankle had been bound to it by a strong,waxed cotton life-preserver strap, which had been padlocked intoplace.

Morgan slumped against the bulwark and said, “Poisoning,theft, kidnapping—these things are not good.”

Isaac nodded his agreement. “But I couldn’t have you ringingthe cops.”

“You have to at least let me call in to the office.”“Can’t do that.”“Do you want me to lose my job?”“It’s not that. The ship’s radio had a tracking system. I had to

toss it.”Morgan crumpled the rest of the way to the deck. “Well,” he

said, “I guess the good news is I would’ve had no idea what to say tomy boss if I did call. ‘I’m really sorry, Herb, but I was abducted bymy father, who thinks he’s a pirate.’ And what would he say? ‘Oh,no problem, that’s been happening a lot.’ ”

“I’ll give you your liberty soon as we land in Plantayne.”“At least untie me,” Morgan said. He wasn’t sure how he might

gain control of the yacht, but figured being free of the padlockwould be a good start. “Maybe I can take a turn at the helm orsomething—anything to help us get there quicker.”

Isaac clearly smelled the rat—his response consisted of a laugh.He then rummaged through his sea chest and produced a ukulele.

Morgan jettisoned the cooperative act and shouted, “You havegot to turn this boat around! Now!”

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As if not having heard him, Isaac strummed a few chords. Thenhe began to sing, something he did so far off tune that Morganquestioned whether Isaac was trying to torture him on top of every-thing else.

To the mast, raise our flag.It is dark as the grave.On the dread which it bears,sweeping o’er the wave . . .

Morgan recognized “The Pirate Song” and added it to the listof once-fanciful memories of their Saturday morning fishing tripsnow relegated to “disturbing.” In addition, he suspected that ifIsaac were to have delivered this rendition aboard an actual pirateship, the crew would have deboned him.

“Do you have any aspirin?” Morgan asked.Isaac lowered a bottle of rum to the deck and rolled it toward

him. Then he returned to singing:

I strike for the memoryof long-vanished years.I only shed bloodwhere another sheds tears.I come, as the lightning comes,red from above,o’er the seamen I loathe,to the battle I love.

Morgan was resigned to the fact that he was this lunatic’s pris-oner, at least for the time being. Trying to avert his thoughtsfrom his situation, he noted the rhythmic patting of the wavesagainst the bow and the touch of violet materializing in the west-ern sky.

There was an old poem that had stuck with Morgan since he

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read it in an anthology in tenth grade. Its author, somewhat morecontemplative than that of “The Pirate Song,” had asked:

What man has not desired to lie upon a barque and admire theclouds flying across the heavens?

What man has not felt a longing to stretch out on a deck and con-template the features of the Universal Mother?

What man has not wanted to relax atop the waves and feel the slowbeat of her eternal heart?

What man has not wanted to thus forget his woes, and let his iden-tity be swallowed in the vast imperceptibly moving energy of herof whom we are, from whom we came, and with whom we shallagain be mingled?

Morgan realized that he, Morgan Arthur Baker, was that man.Whereas another might have been enthralled by the spectacle ofthe waning sun setting the western horizon aglow, Morganwatched the shadows appearing over the face of the waves, andthey led his thoughts to the boundlessness and unknown depths ofthe sea, which were, he felt, singular in the feelings of loneliness,of foreboding, and of dread that they inspired. All he wanted wasto be in his cubicle.

T hat night, as cooling trade winds sighed across Morgan’s de-tention area, Isaac swung the Big Fish west along the Twenty-fourth

Parallel, rounding Cuba. The circuitous route added considerablyto what would have been a six-hundred-mile journey, and risked

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depleting their sixteen-hundred-gallon fuel supply. Although puz-zled, Morgan didn’t bother asking about it. His previous queries re-garding their plans had all been met with a terse, “Get the gold.”Isaac, Morgan had concluded, was intent on the gold with a single-mindedness that made Midas seem well-rounded—and, along thoselines, Ahab carefree, and Quixote sane.

Gradually, Morgan discerned that Isaac had chosen this routefor the simple reason that there was no civilized land in the imme-diate western vicinity of Cuba, hence less traffic, hence less chanceof being spotted.

Over the ensuing thirty-two hours, the Big Fish raced throughthe Lesser Antilles region without once sighting land. Only twicedid they see another vessel—a cruise ship off Jamaica and an oiltanker west of Haiti (which Isaac annoyingly referred to as Hispan-iola, as it had been called during pirate days). Neither craft cameclose enough for Morgan to even consider shouting or otherwisesignaling for help.

His communication with Isaac during that time consisted ofonly one exchange of any significance, on the subject of the“mess.” On the first day of their journey, dinner had consisted ofnacho cheese-flavored taco chips. When the second day brought asalt-and-vinegar-flavored taco chips supper and a dinner of chili-lime-salsa-flavored taco chips, Morgan entreated Isaac to take in-ventory of the galley, which was likely stocked with more fine foodand wine than many restaurants. To no avail. Isaac’s twin necessi-ties of nonstop piloting and keeping a close eye on Morgan pre-cluded either of them from going below. Furthermore, prior to hisimprisonment, Isaac had never tasted even taco-flavored tacochips. Now infatuated with them, he was more than fine with themess as it was.

Morgan awoke the third morning as the stars were fading from anamber sky. Based on the passage of time and his scant knowledgeof geography, he figured the Big Fish was about seventy-five miles

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south of the Antilles. He felt haggard, wrinkled, and hollow eyed,and, as the starboard rail reflected, he looked worse.

Isaac, in contrast, appeared as if he’d had a good night’s sleepin a feather bed. The heavy sprinkling of salt constituting his beardgrowth was the only evidence that he’d spent nearly forty-eightstraight hours at the helm—and at the helm he remained, like a pillar.

He was staring ahead, at what appeared to Morgan to be a bluishcloud hovering above the sea. As they drew closer, its color becamesharper and greener, and Morgan could see gaps and protrusionsupon its surface. Soon he could distinguish trees and rocks. Then,as the sun rose, he could fully make out a small island enshroudedby mist—a function of skyscraping waterfalls pounding a coral bay.A light westerly breeze brought the pleasing scent of fertile soil andtropical verdure. Then the falls’ source, the majestic Mount Plan-tayne, emerged from the vapor, its leeward face shimmering inevery imaginable shade of green and dotted with fiery oranges,lemons, limes, mangoes, and myriad flowers. About a thousand feetup, its peak disappeared into the clouds. This was why, entirely inde-pendent of the hit record of several hundred years later, the Englishsettlers who first occupied the island called the mountain “Staircaseto Heaven.” So Isaac explained, with a sudden chattiness. He was ashappy, Morgan guessed, as he’d been in decades.

“Plantayne,” Isaac all but sang. “Isn’t she beautiful?”At the moment, Morgan wasn’t interested in waterfalls and

fruit. “Where’s the airport?” he asked.

Isaac smoothly maneuvered the Big Fish into the tiny harbor at themountain’s base, then parked against the landing piles at a ricketypier that was equal parts mollusks and dried bamboo. Shoots oflive bamboo lined the shore in clusters thirty feet high, red at thebase before morphing into brilliant green. A few yards inland, theyyielded to a rain forest comprised, principally, of palms and ba-nana trees with leaves large enough to serve as sails.

Once the yacht was docked, Morgan was slow to follow Isaac

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onto the pier. Though Isaac had untied him, his body seemed un-willing to believe that after more than three steps it wouldn’t besnapped back into the starboard rail. Also, he was arrested by thedisplay overhead. Dozens of orange monkeys—lemurs, maybe?—were swinging from branch to branch. Hundreds of brightly col-ored little birds ducked out of the monkeys’ way while improbablycircumnavigating the maze of shoots and boughs. All warbled,chirped, or bleated with such frequency that it seemed as if the is-land itself were one big super-amped flute.

Carved into the base of the forest was the entrance to the island’slargest thoroughfare, a narrow, packed-sand path called PlantayneAvenue—according to the hand-painted sign tacked eye-high to thetrunk of a seventy-foot-tall coconut palm. Morgan noticed an olderPlantayne Avenue sign halfway up the tree.

The path led, Isaac claimed, to town. Weary and slow to recoverhis land legs, Morgan struggled to keep pace. Fortunately, theshade provided a welcome respite from the heat, already consider-able despite the early hour. A rush of jasmine filled his nostrils. Un-der other circumstances, he might have appreciated it.

A quarter mile later, they came to “town.” Winded from thewalk, Morgan surveyed the two-dozen small structures. The sturdi-est were built of whitewashed mud. Most, in Robinson Crusoe fash-ion, were constructed of bamboo, with roofs of thatched palmfronds. The “Supermarket,” still shuttered at this early hour, was nolarger than a typical American two-car garage. It was the largestbuilding in Plantayne, edging out the neighboring “School/Night-club” by a dozen cubic feet.

Just up the block was the Plantayne Power & Electricity Authority,a glorified shed that channeled the stream trickling down fromMount Plantayne through a slow-spinning wooden waterwheel. Mor-gan doubted it manufactured enough electricity to power an aver-age central-air-conditioned house in Miami.

Traffic that morning consisted of a circa 1875 four-wheeled carthauled by an elderly donkey. And nothing else.

Isaac was stunned. “It’s really been built up,” he said.

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Morgan was unnerved by a different observation. “There are nophone lines here.”

Isaac nodded. “There’s no phones on Plantayne. All they gothere’s b-mail.”

“Fine,” Morgan said, relieved. “I’ll book a flight online.”“Book a flight on what?”“Online.”“What’s that?”“I’ll e-mail the travel service.”“E-mail?”“Yeah.”“The hell’s that?”“You just said they had it.”“Not e-mail. B-mail.”“The hell is that?”“Mail delivered by birds.”“Birds?!”“We’ll send one cross-island when the post office opens up,”

Isaac said matter-of-factly. “Book you on the ferry to the Sugar CityAeroport. Get you on your way fast.”

“Sounds great,” Morgan said. By “great” he meant “better thannothing.”

They passed a tiny barbershop. That this decaying bamboostructure still managed to stand must have rankled Gravity. Due tothe hour it, too, was still closed—but not empty. Hidden fromIsaac’s view were two sets of beady eyes studying him through theshop’s spiderweb-draped window. All Morgan saw in the glass washis chaotic reflection. Once he booked a flight, he would try to se-cure some pomade. A dry cleaner’s, he lamented, would likely notfind its way to this island for centuries.

At the sight of Burnie’s Diner at the top of the avenue, Isaac’sstep added a bounce. “What do you say we get us some breakfastfirst?” he said. “Burnie’s the last surviving member of my crew—be-sides myself of course. Whale of a gunner. Doubled as ship’s cook.We call him Burnie ’cause a what he does to chow. Still, I been

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looking forward to one of his conch-salad sandwiches for thirty-fiveyears. How’s one sound to you?”

“Are we out of taco chips?” replied Morgan.Isaac’s brow knitted, as if in appraisal of Morgan’s ingratitude.

Nevertheless, he dug into his knickers, fished around his expansivepocket, and, along with his telescope, produced a rolled-up bagwith a few remaining chips. He turned to toss the bag to Morgan.

Inexplicably, Morgan was no longer there. The surroundingstores had yet to open and so were ruled out as places he mighthave gone. Adding to the mystery, Isaac was the only person on theavenue. He looked at the donkey, as if hoping for an account ofwhat had happened. The donkey proved no help.

In fact, Morgan was just a few feet away, in a narrow alleyway, un-conscious. The pair of beady-eyed men from the barbershop werestuffing him into a large canvas sack. Then they dragged him away.

M organ came to inside the barbershop, in a rusty, cracked-leather-cushioned barber’s chair that, now pumped to its high-

est, stood about four feet off the sandy plank floor. He tried tograsp his throbbing head for fear it might split apart, but his hands,along with much of the rest of him, had been bound to the seat bythick rawhide straps—the sort used to scrape clean straight-edgedrazors. As it happened, the shop could have served as a museum ofobjects used to cut oneself free. Hundreds of rusty scissors, razors,knives, swords, daggers, and other blades dangled by hooks andnails from the warped walls and grimy bamboo rafters. All, unfor-tunately, were beyond Morgan’s reach.

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As he took in more of his surroundings, he could discern no ap-parent organization or order whatsoever, leading him to the conclu-sion that the items were not a display but, rather, the effect ofmultiple generations of barbers who were simply bad at throwingstuff out. Lending credence to that theory, the cabinets and shelveswere in chaos, overflowing with barbering products, including wigpowder, mustache wax, and a corroded can of hair tonic endorsedby Rudolph Valentino. There was even a bottle of a baldness remedybearing the boast 100% PURE SNAKE OIL!

Morgan then became aware of the men who’d kidnapped him.One of them yanked storm curtains across the windows. The otherrammed home the door bolt. Despite the hot, limpid air, icy fearflooded Morgan’s veins.

“Yeh know who we are, aye?” the first man asked him. He spokewith a wheeze, as well as an unusual patois that sounded as if it werea blend of Brighton, England, and Brighton Beach.

Morgan looked the men over. Each was in his forties, of averagesize—though on the lean side, in a hungry sort of way—and, un-usual for the Caribbean, quite pale. They sported nattily coifed, jet-black hair, which would have fallen to their shoulders had it notcurlicued at the neck. Their long, finely waxed mustaches stuck outlike fishhooks. Even from across the shop their dark, closely set eyesmanaged to communicate hard times and resulting resentment.Not unrelated, perhaps, their white uniforms, the likes of whichMorgan had seen only in old film clips of barbershop quartets, werestained and patched many times over. Morgan figured he was beingasked some sort of trick question, but for lack of a better answer, hereplied, “Barbers?”

“Well, aye, tha’, o’course,” the man said. Then he added, proudly,“Our name’s Lafitte. I’m Emildeau Lafitte, an’ this ’ere’s FaldeauLafitte.”

The name Lafitte was familiar. A French wine, no? Morganchewed it over, the necessity of which seemed to irk Emildeau.

“Name means naught ter yeh?”“I know it should,” Morgan said respectfully.

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“Our ancestor, Jean Lafitte,” Emildeau proclaimed, “was thefinest pirate e’er ter set keel in the Caribbean.”

“Oh,” Morgan said. Then, sensing his captors were under-whelmed by his response, he added, “Wow!”

“ ’Til ’e was crippled,” Emildeau continued, “cheated, was ’e, in aduel wi’ yer great-great-granfather, ’Enry Morgan Cooke. Yer name-sake, innit?”

Morgan recalled Isaac saying something about the family nameoriginally having been Cooke. These Lafitte boys must have at-tended the same pirate fantasy camp. “I always figured,” he replied,truthfully, “that I was named after the guy on the rum bottle.”

“No, no, no, tho’ tha’ rotter’s in yer line as well,” Emildeau clar-ified kindly. Then his outrage resurfaced. “After the duel, the onlywork Jean could git was cuttin’ ’air. An’ fer two cent’ries, while yehCookes, was a’capturin’ prize ’pon prize, we Lafittes a’bin barbers.Not the best line o’ work in these waters . . . ” To illustrate his pointhe waved at the far wall.

Morgan turned and saw dozens of framed portraits—most withthe oil paint cracking—of the barbershop’s customers, just aboutall of whom were pirates with long, scraggly hair and beards. Sev-eral shared the same features—particularly the sugar-cube toothygrin—as the yellow-maned young man in one of the more recentlypainted portraits. According to the tin placard nailed to its base,this was CAPTAIN ISAAC COOKE—and, unmistakably, it was Isaac, in hisearly twenties or thereabouts.

A chill from the sort of astonishment that comes once in everyhundred lifetimes shot from Morgan’s toes to his head. EverythingIsaac had been saying, he realized at once—every syllable of it—wasnot crazy at all, but true as the seven o’clock news, if not truer. It oc-curred to Morgan that he was merely dreaming, but, reminded ofthe presence of the Lafittes by their hot, angry breath, he deter-mined he was, in fact, awake. He also determined that the Lafitteshad eaten anchovies for breakfast.

“But today,” roared Emildeau, having become increasinglyheated by the recounting of his family’s misfortunes, “all tha’

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changes! Generations o’ wrong shall be righted. Startin’ wi’ the trea-sure taken by yer father from the Hoods.”

Morgan muttered his new realization: “So there is one.” If hehadn’t been numbed so, he would have shouted it.

“No bleedin’ shite,” Emildeau said. “Now, gettin’ down ter b’iness,where is it?”

Morgan wished he knew. “I have no clue.”Emildeau turned to his brother. “Faldeau, ’e can’t possibly be

this cracked.”Faldeau, theretofore silent, agreed, scoffing at the notion that,

“ ’is auld man ne’er mentioned ’im the biggest pirate prize o’ thepast ’alf a cent’ry!”

“Honestly,” Morgan said, “I don’t have the slightest idea whereit is.”

Emildeau wheezed in such a way as to say that he didn’t be-lieve a word. Then, upper lip twitching in the angry fashion ofthe Very Psychotic, he said, “Well, best get yeh one, quick, swab,or me brother’ll shave yeh so close, yeh’ll never sprout a whiskeragain.”

Taking this as a cue, Faldeau plucked a straight-edged razorfrom the wall.

Too frightened to contemplate a way to negotiate with thesemen or otherwise extricate himself from his predicament, Morgansimply spouted the truth. “Sirs, you’re not going to like this, but un-til a few moments ago I truly thought this whole treasure story wasthe result of my father’s going on the Pirates of the Caribbean rideone too many times.”

Emildeau shifted his focus to the razor in his brother’s hand.“Faldeau, tha’s the rustiest blade in the shop, innit?”

“Aye.”The corners of Emildeau’s lips curled upward. “Good,” he said.With a similar countenance Faldeau opened the blade and laid

it across the base of Morgan’s throat. He applied pressure, thenmore pressure.

Morgan calculated that, at the rate the razor was going, his

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throat would be slit in approximately three seconds. “Stop,” hewhispered, careful not to startle Faldeau in any way. “Please?”

Faldeau eased up. “Suddenly rememberin’ sumpin’?” hechuckled.

“Listen,” Morgan begged, “the fact of the matter is that if I werewalking past this shop, and it was on fire, and my father were stuckinside with the treasure, I’d go in and rescue the treasure. And myonly other concern would be that your nice barber towels might getsmoke damage.”

Faldeau turned to Emildeau. They shared a knowing look, andsoftened. Morgan suspected it was because their experience withIsaac wasn’t dissimilar to his.

“If I knew where the treasure was,” Morgan continued, “I’dgladly go in on it with you. I could finally pay off my student loans,finally get rid of my old car, finally get a classic six-piece livingroom set and a house to put it in. I could do everything I’ve everwanted with even a small fraction of 42.7 million—” He stoppedabruptly, realizing his misstep.

Too late.Faldeau trumpeted, “So ’e do know sumpin’ ’bout it, don’t ’e?”“That’s the only part I know,” Morgan said, squirming. “You

have to believe me.”They didn’t. Per a nod from Emildeau, Faldeau reared back

with the rusty razor. Then, abruptly, he pocketed it. The manicuristhad unexpectedly appeared from the back of the shop.

A few years earlier, the slender, young, starfish blond Polly Teachwas crowned Miss Canoe, but, on Plantayne that day, someone notup on the results of neighboring island beauty pageants would neverhave guessed it. In the Lafitte Barbershop’s manicurist uniform—ashapeless white tunic, a matching pillbox cap, and chalky stockingsof the sort seldom seen on a woman without great-grandchildren—she looked like an oversized saltshaker.

“Would the customer be wantin’ a manicure?” she asked.“Yes!” Morgan exclaimed. “In fact, I’ve never wanted a mani-

cure as badly as I do right now.”

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No sooner did he say this than he felt Faldeau’s razor bladepress into the inner part of his thigh. Emphatically.

“On second thought,” Morgan told Polly, “no thanks.”“Yeh can shove off early today, Polly,” Emildeau said.“How early?” she asked.“Now,” Emildeau said.“Right now,” Faldeau added, as if providing additional infor-

mation.Given Polly’s look of bewilderment, and the evidence Morgan

already had of the Lafittes’ frugality, he guessed that they didn’t lether off early during monsoons. In fact, they probably sent her outon house calls.

As if expecting to be called back all the while, she proceeded tothe door. Having reached it, she slid open the bolt—tentative still—and looked to her employers once more. Impatient, Emildeauwaved her out.

At the same time, Morgan contorted his face, hoping to some-how telegraph his plight to her. It resulted only in her eyeing himall the more strangely. Then she left.

When the door fell shut behind her, Morgan’s heart sank.Worse, Faldeau again produced the razor as he and Emildeau reas-sumed their interrogation positions.

Suddenly the door reopened, and there stood Isaac, boldly sil-houetted in the morning sun. For the first time in twenty-sevenyears, Morgan was glad to see him.

“Lad, if I’d known you wanted a haircut, I’d’ve recommendedbetter,” Isaac said.

Faldeau, having missed the point, protested, “We’re the onlybarbers on the island.”

“Oh, no,” Isaac said, feigning grief. “Don’t tell me somethinghappened to those headhunters who used to paddle over fromMaraca.”

Emildeau reddened. Following his example, so did Faldeau.“Isaac, please don’t piss these guys off,” Morgan pleaded. Not-

ing Isaac grabbing a rusty broadsword from the wall and advancing

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on the Lafittes, he added, “Like, for example, by grabbing one oftheir swords off the wall and advancing on them.”

Isaac sped toward the Lafittes, who quickly perused the wall andmade selections of their own. Better selections.

Morgan watched, again willing to believe this was all part of somestrange reverie, as Faldeau charged Isaac with an antique three-ring-handled rapier. Isaac’s blade met it with a thunderous peal.Then, with a slithering of steel, he flung Faldeau back. Faldeau re-treated, shaken.

Only for a moment, though. Encouraged by Emildeau’s asser-tion that Isaac had “simply bin lucky,” he recovered his deportmentand positioned himself for a swifter go. However, before he couldtake a single step, Isaac, with sword resembling a cyclone, drovehim backward, until he could go no farther—his path was blockedby the barber chair in which Morgan sat, stupefied. So Faldeau sim-ply swung. Again Isaac parried effortlessly. It seemed he could havedone so blindfolded.

This sequence repeated itself several times. Morgan crouched,a compacted block of fright, directly beneath the crossing blades,his head ringing with each clash. Isaac swatted aside Faldeau’s bestshots as if he were seeing them in slow motion. Rapidly, Faldeautired.

Then Emildeau joined in, charging at Isaac with a freshlysharpened–looking long-sword of the sort wielded by the Knightsof the Round Table. His participation shifted the tide. Suddenly itwas Isaac who was backed against the barber chair. This turn ofevents frightened Morgan all the more. Then, from each side ofhis periphery, the Lafittes lunged at Isaac.

Isaac might have attempted to parry one of their swords, or toretreat. Instead, he dropped to his knees, leaving Morgan the likelylanding point for both Lafitte sword points, as well as apoplectic.

Before the points landed, Isaac pounced onto the barberchair’s floor pedal. Morgan felt himself plummet, along with theseat. The tip of Emildeau’s sword flew just an inch above Morgan’shead, trimming a few of the hairs standing on end, and landed in

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Faldeau’s gut. Faldeau’s tip, in turn, disappeared into Emildeau’ssword arm.

“Both of you get a tip today,” Isaac chuckled. Then, turning toMorgan, who was utterly agog, he added, “I guarantee you that’s afirst.”

The barbers, both writhing, collapsed to the floor, raising acloud of hair clippings. Faldeau lost consciousness.

Emildeau clung to his in order to declare, albeit with a weakwheeze, “Cookes, t’will not be the last yeh shall ’ear o’ the Lafittes.’Pon me word an’ honor, we shall ’ave our vengeance!”

Isaac paid no attention to him. He was intent instead on Mor-gan. “You tell them anything?” he asked.

“No,” Morgan said. He was a bit miffed—though far fromshocked—that this was Isaac’s primary concern, as opposed to, say,whether he’d been stabbed with a sword.

“Good,” Isaac said. With a flick of his blade, he sliced away thestraps binding Morgan. “Now step lively. You’ll miss your ferry.”

Just a few minutes earlier nothing could have kept Morgan fromsprinting to that ferry. A few minutes earlier, though, he didn’tknow that the treasure was real.

The notion of joining in Isaac’s pursuit of it didn’t come toMorgan as any sort of clarion call or epiphany. It wasn’t as if any la-tent pirate blood suddenly surged into his veins, nor did he suddenlyfeel a wild stirring in his heart for adventure and romance—at leastnot as far as he knew. Instead, he thought it was simply too muchcash not to take a crack at.

“Actually, I’ve decided you were right,” he told Isaac. “I think itwould be good for us to spend some ‘quality time’ together.”

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Excerpted from Pirates of Pensacola by Keith Thomson. Copyright © 2005, 2011 by Keith Thomson.First published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint

of St. Martin’s Press. Excerpted by permission of Keith Thomson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted

in any format without permission in writing from the author. For information, contact the author at KeithThomsonBooks.com.