Yesterday, Chief Salazar called and said the Sea Booty had been hijacked by a gang of smugglers, and there was a chance Daniel Westcott was on the boat. King-napped. Natalie had pressed the phone to her ear to steady her hand. The way Salazar chose his words¸ she knew he was trying to downplay the danger. She let him talk on. He'd just received confirmation that the Sea Booty was anchored at St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. They didn't know exactly when the boat would head out and return to Tampa. But Salazar said he and Carlos Mendoza were putting a crew together to head off the smugglers before they reached the desolate spit of land on Egmont Key. When he stopped talking, an awkward pause followed. Natalie's mind raced. She thought to thank him, to apologize for the inconvenience. Nothing seemed right. So she invited him—and Carlos Mendoza—to dinner Sunday evening.
Late Sunday afternoon, just before the dinner party, Natalie was upstairs taking a bath. She thought she saw Daniel through the mirror. She blinked her eyes to clear the vision, but Daniel didn't budge. He was hunched over on the stool. As he folded and unfolded his hands, Natalie sensed something unnatural about him, far beyond the mischief in his eyes. His once-plump face appeared slack, paler than an onion. Skin hung from his lower jaw as if he were losing weight. How was that possible? Natalie splashed water over her shoulders. Since no one else had seen Daniel, she wondered if her mind were playing tricks on her. Or perhaps, Daniel was dead, but he'd left behind some unfinished business between them that he'd come back to reconcile. She shivered and added a bit of warmth to the bath. Maybe Daniel was still angry about the gunshots. Well, hadn't he dared her to pull the trigger? And besides, this disappearance act had worn out its welcome. She'd seen it all before—his gambling junkets to the Bahamas, his all-night binges. She'd even found photos of those island women who draped silk scarves over their naked shoulders. "Havana hussies," she called them.
Natalie remembered the night she'd heard Daniel's footsteps pounding down the stairs, and she raced to his gun cabinet to grab the revolver from the rack—and why? Because he was going out and leaving Natalie alone in the living room again? Yes, it was exactly that madness—that helium buzz, the giddy, high-pitched hissing that pulsed her brain with fiery reds and then spread black and blue like spilled ink until it was black all over and exploded into a smoking pistol—that drove her to shoot him, not once, not twice, but three times, all tripped by the eagerness of a twitching finger. That was the last time she'd seen him. Natalie stepped out of the tub. What she needed to know was—were the bullets in that gun blanks from a Gasparilla parade? Or were they real? Time would tell.
Within minutes the Blew Bayou was gliding south toward the deep channel. They needed to get across the northern shoal of the island without hitting ground. Now the lighthouse beam lit up the port side of the boat markers that would guide them to the water that surrounded the island. Spider sat on the fishing throne keeping watch. As they motored toward the west side, the moon rose to twelve o'clock high and cast its light across Egmont Channel. Victor hiked a knee onto the seat next to the cabin door, so he could face the hull, while Kurt held on to the ladder. He told Evan to punch it.
Daniel settled his body, gone lank this last month from roaming, no sleep, no food, just an odd wakefulness as if between time, juxtaposed between the heavens where the sun's heat was not weighted against the skin but remote and veiled as music playing in a dream. And cool was unimaginable, for nothing was quenched or sated, but drawn out hard and moving endlessly toward an unknown. He settled himself into a metal lawn chair. From where the water hit the seared lawn, no longer a spray but a constant stream, worms floated to the surface. Daniel saw them wiggle in the dead grass, the small, common angleworm that he could easily gather and take to the river's edge to fish. He could take the worms down and show the boy, Quinn, who sat on a plastic bucket with his cane pole baited and his line flung into the Hillsborough River, waiting for a bite.
Kurt grinned at the Spiderman. "The reefer business is exploding. There's a lot more players in the game now. Boats, drivers, stash houses, trucks, investors—you name it." Kurt leaned against the pedestaled fishing chair. "A two-bit punk hijacking yachts on his own doesn't stand a chance."