Susan Wolf Johnson

Gasparilla King Blog

The Conch Shell

As the chief drove over the Howard Frankland Bridge in his wife's Pinto wagon, Victor gazed out the window at the sun sizzling over Tampa Bay. Sailboats, trawlers, and cruisers darted across the basin, while a couple of skiffs trolled the shadow lines beneath the Gandy Bridge, tarpon hunting...
The Conch Shell

As the chief drove over the Howard Frankland Bridge in his wife's Pinto wagon, Victor gazed out the window at the sun sizzling over Tampa Bay. Sailboats, trawlers, and cruisers darted across the basin, while a couple of skiffs trolled the shadow lines beneath the Gandy Bridge, tarpon hunting. Victor was fascinated with the bright water that teemed with a silent life he knew nothing about. He sensed something mysterious in its vastness, in the small ripples that skittered the surface. As he looked across the bay sparkling like a cool gem, Victor imagined a life on the water similar to Mortenson's or even Daniel Westcott's—who everyone knew fished like a pro even if he was an amateur. Once off the bridge, Salazar turned toward the Pinellas Bayway which would lead them to Pass-A-Grille. "Let's hope we can find this Cuda kid and find out what he was doing on the Sea Booty the day Daniel disappeared."

When Salazar pushed the door open to the Conch Shell, a hush fell over the barroom. As Victor's eyes adjusted to the light, he saw gamesters gathering cards and stuffing money into their pockets. Then, like cockroaches, they skittered out the back door. By the time he and Salazar made their way to the bar and pulled out stools, half the tables had emptied. "I'm looking for a twenty-year-old kid named Cuda," Salazar said to the bartender. "Heard he comes in here a lot."

The bartender crossed a pair of meaty arms over his belly. "Is he in trouble?" 
"He went out fishing with a Tampa man, a Daniel Westcott, the day before he disappeared. Daniel hasn't turned up yet." 
"Don't know him," the bartender said too fast. He grabbed the towel that hung from his waist and began wiping the bar with a fury. "Lots of fellers come and go."

The bartender was lying. Victor knew it, and so did the chief. But Victor also knew Salazar would not pry. Instead he slipped two dollars under the coaster as if to thank the tight-lipped bartender for the most revealing information he could've offered—silence. 

Back in the car, as they headed for the bay way, the chief said, "That's not what I wanted to know." Victor peered out the window at the intercoastal shimmering like a jewel. "I probably shouldn't tell you this," Salazar said, "but I checked Daniel's bank accounts this morning. He's broke."
Victor felt his heart jump in his chest. "Totally?"

Salazar nodded. "He's living on credit." Victor noticed the chief's knuckles blanch white as he gripped the steering wheel. "I don't want your uncle to know that Daniel's flat broke; let him draw his own conclusions about Cuda. Same goes for the family. We need to protect them now. Nothing's been proven yet."  Then Victor understood.  Salazar wanted him in on this search to help protect the family.  The sun still gleamed across the water, and Victor squinted in its brightness.  He could do that, he thought, protect the family.  He especially wanted to protect Becca.  

 

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