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The Women on Whitehead Street


Bob Chassanoff

Chapter 1

Harry Gorten's letter reached Denver at the beginning of February 1875, where Jason Pike was reviewing mineral ore quotas for his Colorado foundries. Jason yawned because the task was even more tedious, and as boring as it sounded.

"This is preposterous," Sam Meeker said, reading Harry's letter. Sam was Jason's business manager, and they sat in his small, smoky office. "Gorten wants you to join him in the Florida Keys to look for sunken treasure from a Spanish galleon that went down over 250 years ago? That's the craziest thing I ever heard." Sam rubbed his rapidly balding head and scowled at Jason, who shrugged and smiled back. This was exactly what Jason expected Sam to say, because he knew Sam was bitter over losing his hair and anxious for Jason not to lose too much of his money in a silly ill-thought-out treasure-hunting scheme.

Sam Meeker was fifty-five, half accountant, half lawyer, and Jason's business manager because he was a conservative, thrifty, and sober individual; all values Jason appreciated in someone who manages money. Sam was a small, round man, who consistently wore black suits and puffed on a pipe too often. He used a heavy cavendish blend and the office was thick with sweet smoke, which Jason finally decided was annoying. "Can you open a window, please? I need some air."

"It's cold outside." Sam shivered, wrapping his arms across his chest, so Jason knew what he meant, even if he had been deaf. Jason got up, put a piece of wood on the fire, and went to open the door a crack. "Lift that window, let's get some ventilation in here," he ordered. Being the boss did have its advantages.

"What intrigues me," Jason said, sitting down and putting his feet up on Sam's desk, an intended sign of dominance, "is that Harry says he expects trouble."

Jason picked up the letter from Sam's desk and read, "The secret of the discovery has leaked to selfish and violent men. I expect interference in the salvage pursuit," Jason quoted.

"He knows you can't resist a fight." After Sam opened the window, he took his coat from the back of his chair. "Gorten wants money and salvage equipment. This diving bell alone will cost hundreds to fabricate. And he wants a boiler and a piston- cylinder assembly. That's a whole steam engine. You know what a good boiler cost these days?"

Sam leaned forward and took the letter from Jason's hand. "He says here he's found ' valuables' from the Atocha site. He mentions nothing of treasure," Sam paraphrased Harry's letter. "There's no offering of proof he has found real treasure: gold and silver, jewels." Sam stared at Jason and wrinkled up his little bookkeeper's nose, as if something didn't smell right. "Jason, Gorten sounds like a charlatan seeking on old loyalties to milk you of your money."

"Sam, Harry Gorten saved my life half a dozen times during the war. I owe him. Besides, he wrote 'VALUABLES' in capitals. That means something important. Harry's no archeologist. He's not talking about pottery or a couple of rusty cannon balls. And you're ignoring a significant point. He wants me and salvage gear; he doesn't want my money."

"You're also bored and looking for travel and adventure," Sam added.

Jason knew Sam was disgusted with him, like a father with an irresponsible son. "That's very close to the truth," Jason admitted. "I'm taking a train next week to the Southeast, and catch a ship to Florida. Sam, I want you to buy everything on Harry's list from the best manufacturers in the Northeast and ship it to me on Key West."

Harry Gorten was a widower and after the Civil War he retired from the United States Army and moved to the Florida Keys with his daughter, Adrian. Jason smiled and rubbed his chin as he remembered Harry bragging, "I'm gonna buy an island and grow a plantation."

This was Jason's first chance in two years to get away and see old friends. He knew he couldn't recapture his youth and didn't wish to relive much of his past. But Jason just wanted a change from the present. He didn't enjoy being a businessman.

Besides, Adrian would now be full-grown. She had been a lovely, but untouchable, young thing in 1865, when she was fifteen and Jason was twenty-four, a captain commanding a regiment of federal cavalry. Harry made a point in his letter to say he hadn't married Addie off yet.

"Why don't you get married, instead?" Sam said, "You need a wife to tell you that you are too old to go running around on a treasure hunt."

Jason got up and cradled his arms, shivering. "You keep your office too damn cold, Sam. If this is your way of asking for a raise, forget it. See to Harry's needs. I'll keep in touch with you." Jason smiled at his chief bureaucrat, then left Sam to his duties, and reheating his office.

"I'm glad to be rid of you, Jason, when you're thinking like a child," Sam called after him.

Jason laughed, pausing in the doorway to cavalierly wave an arm around. "Sam, I'm off on an adventure, to the Caribbean, to court a fair maiden and raise Spanish Treasure." Then, in a resolute tone, Jason voiced, "And I'll deal with Harry Gorten's enemies."

Sam Meeker went to stand by the fire after he closed the window. Meeker was annoyed with his employer. While he never considered looking for another position because Jason Pike paid generously, Jason's eccentricities were getting on his nerves. The man just couldn't make the transition to the world of finance. Still the adventure-seeking cowboy, Meeker thought

of his boss as he put Harry Gorten's shopping list in an envelope.

Meeker looked around at his quickly warming, comfortably appointed office. He was surrounded by mahogany shelves holding thick books on economic law, history, and natural philosophy. Meeker was a rationalist who believed that free industry and commerce would eventually create the perfect world of worker/manager/financier. And, like a lot of people captivated by the ideal of capitalism, Meeker could not understand why everyone did not feel the way he did.

Three weeks later, at six-thirty on a foggy morning, Jason Pike was standing on a dock looking out at Mobile Bay. There were pelicans perched on dock posts, and he could smell the cool, moist, and pungent rotten-egg odor and hear the sharp bird calls of life in the swamps surrounding the small harbor. Jason appreciated the serene, peaceful dawn after he had taken noisy, jerky and smoky trains from Denver to Mobile. He was looking forward to a different mode of transportation and enjoyed walking the pitching deck of a ship at sea.

In front of him was moored a large, single-masted sailing ship. She was the cargo sloop, Bluebird, and about seventy-five feet in length. Despite the outgoing tide, they had to wait for the sun to burn the foggy mist from the surface of the bay.

A man in a gray suit carrying a satchel approached Jason and placed it next to his. "Are you taking passage on the Bluebird, sir?" He was a tall, lean man with a Carolina tidewater accent Jason easily recognized.

"Yes sir. I'm Jason Pike." He offered his hand.

"Wade Estes, Mr. Pike, a pleasure." They shook hands. "Are you going to Tampa or Key West?"

"Key West," Jason answered. "An old friend invited me down to visit and explore the possibility of an investment in an orange tree plantation on one of the keys up the chain," he said, wanting to try out his cover story.

"Really." Wade bit his lip and massaged his chin. "There's no fresh water for irrigation. The weather in the Keys is fine for tropical plants and citrus trees, but there aren't the resources to support a commercial operation."

Wade had a sallow complexion, thinning black hair, and scratched at an apparent scar above his left eye. To Jason, it looked like an old saber wound. The scar tissue bisected his eyebrow and the hair had never grown back "This friend was a regimental sergeant major during the war. His most valuable attribute was a certain quality of inflexibility," Jason explained.

Wade smiled and glanced at Jason's rifle case sitting next to his bag. "Do you always travel with a rifle?" he asked.

"I like to keep current with my target practice," Jason said.

"What weapon is it?"

"A Winchester 1873 model, the .44-.40," he answered.

Wade nodded approvingly. "You're a serious shooter." Jason locked into Wade's questioning eyes until the Southerner turned away at the sound of approaching footsteps.

Wade smiled as a woman came up to them. He tipped his hat and said, "Good morning ma'am." Jason also smiled and bowed slightly, having no hat.

She was a woman in her mid-twenties, of medium height, a soft peaches and cream complexion, and blond hair bundled up on the top of her head. With full lips, a proud nose, and inquisitive-almost penetrating-very large green eyes; Jason was impressed by this attractive young woman with great poise and bearing. He also noticed she didn't wear a wedding ring.

"Good morning, gentlemen. This is the Bluebird. I see our departure time is delayed. Are you to be fellow passengers?" Her accent was pure Alabama and she plowed right on ignoring her own question. "I'm Sarah Dumont," she said and nodded toward Jason, like a teacher, letting him know it was his turn to speak.

"Jason Pike, Miss Dumont. Happy to meet you."

Her eyebrows raised as she smiled back. "A pleasure, sir," Sarah said slowly, carefully looking Jason over-up and down-as if he was an old acquaintance she had not seen in a long time.

She smiled up at Wade. "And you, sir. Who might you be?"

"Wade Estes, Miss Dumont. I'm an attorney from Columbia, South Carolina. You don't remember me, do you? We met once when you were small, at my wedding, on Key West. You were a flower girl when I married Lorena Harrington." Wade had a whimsical, far-off tone to his voice. Sarah's eyes opened wide and she had to raise a hand to her mouth because it was dropping open. For Jason, it was amusing to watch surprise grow on others' faces. He still thought with the mind of a soldier or a United States Marshal. Jason hated surprises coming his way. He also wondered why Estes had not embarked from Charleston and taken passage down the Atlantic coast. Wade would have saved a long train ride through Georgia and Alabama.

"That was before the war. I was just eight years old." Sarah paused to do a computation. "It was the spring of 1858. I wore the prettiest pink dress that day. And everyone was dancing. The food was so good; there was fried chicken and roast lamb. All the ladies made pecan and coconut tarts and key lime pies." She smiled wide, showing even white teeth, and dimples so deep they could hold coins in both her cheeks.

"You're going to visit your aunt on Key West?" Wade asked.

"I plan to stay on Key West. I've accepted a position as organist and teacher of the scriptures at Saint Paul's." She sounded very proud.

"That's wonderful. I'm going down to advise my father-in-law on certain financial matters," Wade said.

"I remember the general. Aunt Salina writes about him. He's an eccentric old . . . or rather an elderly gentleman who won't forget about the war. He keeps going on and on about it," Sarah gossiped.

"Yes. That's General Clinton Avery Harrington," Wade said with a sour voice and less than a jovial expression. He looked down and tried to use the toe of his boot to mash an offensive pebble into the wooden dock.

"And you, Mr. Pike. Why are you going to Key West?" she asked Jason.

"I'm going to consider an agricultural proposition with an old friend."

"Oh? You don't look at all like a farmer. That suit was tailored in a big city. You're a man of means and a Yankee," she stated knowingly. Sarah was right; Jason's black suit was from an expensive store in Chicago.

"I'm just an Ohio farm boy, Miss Dumont. I'm trying to get back to my roots, Jason offered." She laughed, obviously not believing a word he said, and turned back to Wade.

"Where's your wife, she's not traveling with you to visit her father?" Sarah inquired. "She was such a lovely bride. I remember wanting to be just like Lorena when I grew up."

"I'm a widower, Miss Dumont. My wife and our children died from consumption during the war." Wade looked at Jason. It was a hard and pained face that stared his way. Wade's eyes were narrow and the left brow, with the notch in it, raised a bit. Sarah Dumont looked back and forth between them.

"I'm so sorry. I never knew." Sarah said. She turned to Jason. "And you Mr. Pike, what did you do in the war?" Jason decided Sarah Dumont was a frustrating conversationalist. Why didn't she ask about his wife; he was a widower, too.

"I was a cavalry officer. I rode a horse and worked for Phil Sheridan." In response Wade ran a fingertip along the scar over his eye, and Jason knew it was the result of an encounter with Yankee cavalry.

"Yes. I was just fifteen, but I remember. Sheridan burned the whole Shenandoah in 1864, Virginia's breadbasket."

"The Shenandoah Valley was Lee's Army's breadbasket too. Soldiers didn't start the war, Miss Dumont; they suffered it," Jason reminded.

"Who did start the war, Mr. Pike? If you know the answer to that question; I would be grateful, if you would let me share in your confidence." Sarah was bitter now. Jason knew her whole upbringing had been tarnished by the cruelest period in American history. Jason looked at Wade trying to analyze his impassive face. He guessed Wade might expect he would deliver a response designed to put the blame on the South, such as discussing John Calhoun's obstinance in the Senate.

"Abolitionists, Miss Dumont. Most of them were theologians, teachers, or journalists. Two passionate women were up front: a novelist and a poet. Harriet Stowe wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin and Julia Howe penned The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Women just like you, women with a strong sense of moral conscience-except they were Yankee abolitionists-started our Civil War."

Sarah's mouth dropped open, but she recovered quickly. "Thank you, Mr. Pike." She nodded at Jason. "You don't mince words. Good day," Sarah Dumont said and walked down the wharf.

As the fog started to lift, the crew and the captain arrived. The master of the Bluebird was also the owner, John Rhinehart. He was a pudgy, short, red-faced German with a big

Irish drinker's nose, who wore a wide-brimmed straw hat against the growing glare of the sun. Rhinehart was brief with his passengers as he showed them to the tiny cabins set aside for people. The Bluebird primarily hauled cargo.

Sarah Dumont was breathless and could barely constrain herself until she was alone in the tiny bunk assigned to her. Imagine, meeting Jason Pike and Wade Estes at the same time. Both men were legends to her. Ever since Sarah and Addie met after the war Addie Gorten reminisced about the tall, handsome captain and how he favored her with his attentions. Now Sarah understood why Jason Pike had been Addie's heartthrob for the past ten years.

And Wade Estes too, he was a hero of the western cavalry campaigns. How tragic his wonderful wife, Lorena, went with so many others to heaven during the war, Sarah decided sadly. Then she sat on the bed and looked around to see a roach crawling along the casing of her bunk. Next, she felt a flea on the back of her wrist. It was a Florida flea, Sarah observed, bigger than their Alabama cousins. "Oh, yuck!"

Jason stowed his bag and went on deck, where Wade joined him at the stern to watch Rhinehart's crew move the long sloop out to sea. The sailors hoisted the mainsail and it billowed to starboard, as did the jib. The wind was from the northeast and they were heading due south. "How far is the Gulf?" Jason asked Wade.

"Thirty miles to open water. It will take most of the day," he answered. "The Bluebird is loaded down. We're only making about four knots."

When the channel widened they entered Heron Bay. "That's Dauphin Island off to starboard and there is Fort Morgan on the point to port. Beyond is the Gulf," Wade explained.

"That's the tight gauntlet Farragut's fleet ran in August 1864?" Jason asked.

"Yes. But it wasn't much of a contest. The federal fleet had our shore batteries outgunned eight to one, six to one in manpower." Jason nodded and was silent, sorry he brought up the subject. And he wasn't surprised Wade said, 'federal fleet' rather than 'United States Navy.' Bobby Lee had always refered to the U.S. Army as 'those people'.

"Have a cigar, Wade," Jason offered a cheroot from his jacket pocket.

"I have my own," the Southerner said, drawing a large cigar from his breast pocket. "Who's your friend on Key West?"

"Harry Gorten, he owns Big Pine Key. Do you know him?"

"No, I don't," Wade said, but the quick glance of his eyes told Jason he had, at least, heard the name before.

At sunset that first night out, Rhinehart invited his passengers for dinner in his tiny cabin. There was a small table just large enough for four: Sarah, Wade, Rhinehart, and Jason. The meal was diced salt pork thrown into a pot of beans and burned with dry biscuits served on the side. This was when Jason decided Rhinehart had no interest in fresh food, since they only just sailed that morning, or pleasing his passengers. Sarah had only a tiny appetite, and just pushed her fork around the plate. "Is this fare indicative of what we can expect during the entire length of the voyage, Captain Rhinehart?" she asked.

Rhinehart looked up from his plate. He was eating heartily. "Are there any weevils in the biscuits? Tomorrow night I was planning to serve bratwurst and chili peppers, cauliflower, and several large pickles. Perhaps you would want to have a look at our store of provisions?" Rhinehart offered. Sarah tried her best to smile at his polite offer. Her mouth moved all around, but she just couldn't manage a pleasing expression.

The voyage was uneventful from Mobile to Tampa. Tampa was less than uneventful; it was a boring, little, mosquito-ridden town and army post. The Bluebird sailed from Tampa the next morning with an early tide. At noon the second day out, while heading due south, they saw a sail start to grow on the horizon off to the west. A two-masted sailing ship came up on them from out of the Gulf. Jason watched Rhinehart's behavior, and when he became agitated, Jason grew concerned.

"That's the Raven. It's Carney's schooner. Mr. Asbury, stand by to come about," Rhinehart said to the man at the wheel.

"May I inquire what's going on?" Jason asked Rhinehart. Wade and Sarah Dumont were standing on the stern, also curious to know why the captain and crew of four were excited.

"That's Jack Carney, the pirate. He wants to catch us, empty all your pockets, and pick through my cargo."

Jason borrowed Rhinehart's telescope and centered it on the ship that was bearing down on them. She was at least eighty feet long, and there was a large amount of sail rigged on her tall masts.

Rhinehart's men were placed at the winches as he shouted, "Helm's alee." The jib flapped wildly in the wind as it was pulled into the forward port beam. They turned hard to the left; cold, white, salty spray flared up from the sea to drench Jason, Sarah, and Wade, as they held onto the stern railing. The Bluebird came about as Rhinehart turned east, making for the Florida coast.

"You mean they intend to catch us and rob us, as if we were a stagecoach?" Jason said, very surprised, as he wiped his face with a shirt sleeve.

"Oh, sweet Jesus," Sarah said, "This is an adventure I'm not happy to take part in, and nothing good will come of it."

"You're both quite perceptive," Wade nodded calmly, crossing his arms on his chest, and shaking his head of sea water.

"Who is Jack Carney?" Jason asked.

"Carney was a slave smuggler before the war, then a blockade runner during the war. Afterward, he turned to piracy," Rhinehart said.

"What's in your armory, captain," Jason inquired and got an icy glance from Rhinehart. Sarah Dumont was listening, but kept her hand over her mouth.

"I know you used to be a marshal, Mr. Pike, but don't forget who's in charge here. We have a woman aboard and no ability to resist an attack from a well-armed pirate. Our only chance is if the wind shifts, and we can reach Port Charlotte harbor. If the Raven gets within range before dark, we will have to yield."

"Don't let my well-being concern you," Sarah said. "I'll neither sanction nor tolerate any dealings with an insufferable brigand such as Jack Carney."

"On the contrary, Miss Dumont. Your safety is of primary concern," Rhinehart told her and glanced toward Jason.

"Let's talk about what's in your armory and how well-armed the opposition is," Jason persisted. Rhinehart glared at him and Jason stared back.

"Captain." Wade got involved. "I want you to answer Mr. Pike's question, too. Exactly what is our capacity to resist their boarding this vessel?"

Jason wondered what Wade had to protect. As for himself, Jason had a lot of money with him, but in the form of a letter of credit. It would be of little value to a thief, except to tell Carney he had a rich man, but not his money. This made Jason an excellent candidate to hold for ransom.

"All right, so you want the facts. The Bluebird carries two Springfield rifles and one rusty rapier in her arms cupboard. The Raven will catch us, because we're heavy with freight. She's empty and can hoist a lot of sail. Carney's got thirty or forty men with small arms: pistols, rifles, and swords."

"I have a Henry rifle, two handguns, and ammunition for both. We can at least test the level of their determination," Jason said.

"Then he'll put a hole in our hull just below the waterline and we'll sink slowly while he boards and takes whatever he wants," Rhinehart shouted at Jason.

"Are you saying Carney has a battery on that ship?" Wade asked.

"Yes. The Raven's got four two-inch bore carronades mounted as swivel guns on her bow and aft gunnels."

Very efficient, just enough armament for a coastal raider, Jason thought and voiced, "It will be a couple hours before he catches us. Maybe we can come up with a plan."

Rhinehart went below, and Jason followed to argue but saw the captain wanted to brood and drink, so Jason left Rhinehart to be alone with his own chosen course. Back on deck, Jason asked Mr. Asbury, "Is Jack Carney a buccaneer?"

The first mate was carefully steering the Bluebird east, trying to maximize the wind as much as possible. "Not at all. We reserve such titles for captains such as Jean Lafitte, who helped defend New Orleans against the British during the War of 1812." Mr. Asbury was a thin, blond-haired man with the leather-lined face of a sailor in the tropics. Asbury ran his long hair back off his forehead and said, "Carney is a butcher! Before the war, while smuggling slaves to New Orleans, he would stop just off Key West. Carney dumped his dead Africans in our waters. The sharks would feed on the bodies as Carney sailed off. He sold the emaciated survivors of the crossing, and always bragged about making a healthy profit." To Jason, Asbury seemed disgusted. "Carney stopped us a year ago. One of the passengers provoked their first officer, a Cuban named Alvarez. He cut up our passenger and the brave man bled to death."

"They won't bring their ship alongside will they?" Jason asked.

"No. He'll send six men in a small boat."

"Does he ever lead the boarding party himself?" Jason queried.


"Those men in a rowboat would be extremely vulnerable," Wade said.

"They're protected by four cannons that will sink us," Asbury offered.

"If we devise a reasonable plan, will you fight, Mr. Asbury?" Jason asked.

His eyebrows grew together and he squinched up his cheeks studying Jason closely. "I can't imagine what you could come up with. Besides, I have a wife and four children to support. I can't justify committing suicide. Take up the issue with my captain," Asbury said. Jason thought Asbury was confident Rhinehart would not sanction resistance against the Raven.

Wade and Jason checked the cargo manifest to see if there was anything they could use to resist being boarded. Slowly they put together a plan of action. Like Jason, Wade also had no stomach to be a victim of some seagoing highwayman, but he did have apprehensions. "What about Sarah?" Wade asked. "The pirates will have their way . . ."

"The pirates will back down. They'll never get on board," Jason said.

"What if something goes wrong? Haven't you ever had a plan go awry?" he asked. "They'll kill you, me, and certainly Rhinehart. They'll all rape Sarah, and they might keep her."

"We'll put a ship's boat over the side away from the pirates; and if a fight starts, we'll send Sarah and Asbury to make a break for shore. If we're close enough, they'll have a good chance."

"Oh! And the pirates. What will they be doing?" Wade asked.

"They'll be busy killing us. Two old soldiers like you and me, Wade, we should take a while to die." And Jason smirked, as if he really wasn't concerned.

Wade rubbed his chin and then tugged at an earlobe. "You're morbid, Jason."

Jason and Wade presented their plan to Captain Rhinehart in his cabin, and he rejected it. Jason argued with him until Rhinehart turned away. "I suppose you're right. Sheep were made to be sheared," Jason taunted sharply.

Rhinehart stormed back to face Jason. "Damn you, sir. You can't talk to me like that on my own ship."

"Your ship!" Jason blurted. "I thought you were giving her to Carney." Rhinehart was all puffed up, red and wrinkled like a ripe red pepper. He'd already damned Jason, with his harsh bourbon breath, so it seemed to Jason, Rhinehart should reach for a gun. Jason's left hand was resting on the .45 Colt Peacemaker holstered at his side.

Wade, who was standing next to Jason, took a fraction of a second to glance his way. Wade's hand was on his gun too, and he was looking at Rhinehart with cold, hard eyes. Jason wondered again what Wade had to protect.

Rhinehart took them both in with his little, bloodshot eyes and agreed to go along with their plan, provided Jason was able to lure Jack Carney into leading the boarding party. One hour before sunset the Raven caught up to the Bluebird. When they were fifty yards astern, the pirates ordered Rhinehart to lower his sails. Rhinehart complied; and Carney's crew furled the Raven's three large sails, while a boat was lowered to the sea.

"Captain Carney," Rhinehart hailed through his horn. "I have a passenger aboard who wishes to make you a proposition. Would you please come over with your party?"

"Who is he?" came from the Raven.

"A banker from Chicago." Jason's ploy was based on the hope that Carney might think it amusing to watch the squirming of a banker obviously trying to protect something valuable. And with the implied possibility of an exceptional prize, he would also want to take personal command of searching the Bluebird.

The pirate considered and shouted back, "All right. I'm coming, Rhinehart; but no tricks or we'll send you to the bottom." The Raven's guns were manned and trained on the Bluebird.

Jason turned and saw Rhinehart motion to Asbury and Sarah to get over the side and into the rowboat they had prepared for escape, if needed.

Six men climbed down the side of the Raven into a ship's longboat. "That's Jack Carney in the stern working the tiller," Rhinehart said.

Jason glanced at Rhinehart and then Wade. "Stay calm, gentlemen. Everything will be just fine." He was talking mostly to Rhinehart, but preferred not to single him out.

Rhinehart was nervous; his face was flushed and his hands were shaking. "Calm, hell! I don't swim in the same school of cold fish as you two. I'm afraid of getting killed."

"The captain has half a brain, Jason," Wade said.

"We've got a good plan. Stay sharp. We'll be okay," Jason assured them.

The pirates came alongside amidship and threw up their bow line. "You better throw up a stern line too," Rhinehart suggested as they planned.

Carney was a big man with a head of sparse red hair and skin that was weathered and craggy. "Nice to see you again, Captain Rhinehart." He smiled and laughed.

Jason glanced at Wade. The Southerner gave back a slight nod. Two of Carney's men started to climb up the side. That's when Jason struck a match to the torch he'd prepared. At the same time Wade, along with two of the crew, dumped three buckets of kerosene on Carney and his men. One of them, climbing on the side of the Bluebird, screamed and fell back. The other

climber took a sharp crack on his temple from the long barrel of Jason's .45 Colt, and slid back down to the rowboat. Jason held the torch out over them.

"None of you move a muscle, or I'll drop this. Carney, tell `em to keep their weapons down, and the rest on the Raven too. I swear I'll roast all of you. I've never seen broiled

pirates before!" Jason paused, so they could appreciate their predicament. "Don't think about jumping in the water. The first one that bolts or tries to cut a line gets the rest of you torched.

Any of you that come to the surface get shot in the back." Wade was pointing Jason's Winchester .44-.40 at them. Two of the crew also had the muzzleloading Springfields from the Bluebird's meager armory.

Carney prudently shouted to his crew aboard the Raven to hold their fire. The men in the rowboat were a rough-looking group, and Jason was relieved to see all their faces were upturned and terror-stricken. The torch blazed above them, and Jason hoped he hadn't soaked it in kerosene to the point of dripping flames.

"What do you want?" Carney said to Jason. Then to Rhinehart, "You'll pay for this." He was vehement with his threat.

"I just want you to go away and leave us alone," Jason said. Flaming embers were starting to break away from the burning cloth wrapped around the stick. "And I suggest you decide to do it quickly."

"All right. Let us cast off and we'll leave you be," Carney answered with haste. He glanced around at the men in small row boat. They kept sniffing at their collars, as if they

couldn't believe they were soaked in kerosene.

"Good." Jason smiled slightly. "There's just one more small detail. Order those four swivel guns thrown over the side, the port side, so we can all see them go under." Now Carney was furious. Jason leaned closer toward them with the torch and they all cringed. For Carney, Jason knew, this was his moment of decision, and Jason carefully watched his eyes. He also noticed the man next to Carney, who grabbed his belt with one hand and held a knife close to Carney's middle with the other. Jason saw he was an old pirate and knew Carney had to capitulate or jump over board. And only the first to move had a chance to make it, swim away underwater. The rest would be shot as they were engulfed in flames.

"All right," Carney said to Jason and turned to the Raven. Cuffing his hands to his mouth, Carney shouted, "Alvarez, throw the carronades over the port side." Alvarez protested and Carney yelled back, "Damn you, he's going to burn us all. Do as I say right now!" The pirates pulled the four small cannons from their mounts and pitched them into the sea.

"Thank you, Captain Carney. You may push off," Jason said and nodded to the others to release their boat's lines. "You have safe passage, until you reach your vessel. If you choose to

pursue us until sunset, we will fire on you in a deadly and earnest manner. This Bluebird has a sharp beak; you will be in for a costly fight. Consider yourself and your crew so warned."

"I won't forget you. We'll meet again," Jack Carney threatened Jason. "Hey, what's your name?"

"I'm Jason Pike, Carney. Clever people learn from their mistakes. Come at me again and I'll send you right to hell!" Jason threw the torch in the ocean just a few feet to the side of their rowboat. It was frustrating for the pirates; bathed in kerosene, they couldn't even point and discharge a pistol.

The men on the Bluebird watched as the pirates rowed back to their ship. Carney argued with the man who had grabbed his belt. When they reached the Raven, four men climbed aboard. Carney struggled with, killed the belt grabber with his knife, and threw the body into the ocean. Then he climbed up the side, and they hoisted the small boat aboard.

Rhinehart was eager to make sail, and his sloop was faster to rig and fill with wind than Carney's larger schooner. Jason took back his rifle from Wade and watched the Raven as they slowly moved apart.

Wade said, "We could have forced them to hand Carney over to us. Asbury told me he's got a reward of five thousand dollars on his head."

"I know; Asbury told me too. But we did make a deal with Carney. And consider Carney's credibility. After what we did to him today, he could be overthrown. The Raven is certainly finished as a pirate raider, until they find new cannons."

Wade nodded in agreement. "But what about the money? I'm not rich. Are you?"

Jason shrugged. "I'm sorry, Wade. You should have mentioned it at the time."

Sarah Dumont marched toward them and saw that the Raven was remaining stationary while the Bluebird was getting under way. She glanced back and forth between Wade and Jason. "You two look very pleased with yourselves," she said.

"We got lucky," Jason said.

"They were thieves, Miss Dumont, not warriors," Wade offered. Sarah wiggled the left side of her mouth in what looked to be a very weak sneer.

"You gentlemen did a good job," Rhinehart said, nodding at Jason, and then Wade.

"We got lucky; they were just thieves," Sarah said sadly. She was standing at the rail, staring toward the Raven at a body floating in the water. It was the pirate Carney had killed and

discarded. After the encounter with the Raven, there were two more days of sailing to Key West. She was like a jewel lying quietly on the sun-drenched Gulf of Mexico at the end of the long Florida archipelago.

After the incident with the Bluebird, Jack Carney had a near mutiny on his hands. Even Muldoon, that old pain in the ass that he had to kill, had a couple friends amongst the crew. Both his officers, Alvarez and Chevarant, were holding the crew back. Chevarant, the diplomatic Frenchman, was calmly explaining that the captain would replace the guns out of his own pocket. Which, by the way, Carney had not agreed to do. Alvarez was reasserting his loyalty to the captain and explaining, in Spanish to the Mexican contingent of the crew, that nobody was perfect, and that even experienced leaders like Captain Carney made a mistake once in a while.

Carney felt queasy as he sat at his desk in the tiny cabin, listening to the arguments raging outside. Rhinehart's Bluebird had been easy pickings in the past. This month's passengers were

a feisty bunch, and Carney scratched his whiskers wondering about the men, obviously soldiers, that had humiliated him in front of his crew. And what was their purpose on Key West?

His schooner continued east to anchor in a small bay south of Port Charlotte, on the west coast of Florida. Both his officers continued to mollify the crew, while Carney drank rum, brooded, and contemplated the situation.

Chapters - Prologue - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 -11- 12 - Epilogue

U.S. Federal Copyright 'TXU 603-893

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