The Writers Voice
Favourite Literary Website
The Women on Whitehead Street
Rhinehart was cautious as he approached Key West's harbor. It
was almost noon of another hot, sunny day. After he dropped
his sails, a steam-powered tug came out and a crewman threw a line so the tug
could guide the Bluebird to a safe anchorage
in the busy harbor.
Jason quickly spotted Addie Gorten standing on the wharf. She was tall and still
slender, but not clumsy and gawkish as she
had been ten years ago, when just fifteen years old. There was a certain grace
to her long figure now. When they were just
fifty yards away, Jason got Rhinehart's spyglass and gave her the old
up-and-down. Addie had black hair and was wearing it
long and full, down to her shoulders. She wore a trim, navy blue skirt and a
plain white blouse. Addie also had one of those
wide-brimmed Panama hats, like Rhinehart wore. There was a red ribbon around the
brim and the end of the ribbon swung in the
breeze at the back of her neck.
Jason decided to buy one; his nose was tender and peeling from the sun.
Addie was resting her weight on her left hip, her right leg jutting forward just
enough to be noticed through the blue cloth
of the long skirt. He moved the telescope up. Jason saw, through the tight,
strained cloth of her blouse, that her smallish
breasts were high on her chest. She was tan, had an oval face with a clean
straight nose, pouty full lips, and fawn-like
eyes that could be vulnerable and wild at the same time. "Thank God, Addie
favors her mother," Harry Gorten must have said a
hundred times during the war years Jason and Harry served together.
Addie looked right at Jason, who felt stupid, because he waved with one hand
while keeping the telescope at his eye with the
other. She smirked and pointed her finger at him. Then she turned away and
walked all of three paces.
Addie stopped and turned back to face him and stand feet apart and arms akimbo.
She was laughing. Go ahead and have a good
look, Jason knew, she was saying by her demeanor. Addie had been a brazen brat,
when Harry showed her off to their regiment
of horse soldiers ten years before; and Jason hadn't expected her to change.
Jason smiled as he admired the girl who had
grown into a proud and beautiful woman.
"May I have the glass for just a short space of time, Jason?" Wade asked.
"No, Wade. I'm sorry. I've already broached the border of what could be
considered randy conduct." Jason handed the scope to
Wade laughed. "I take it she's meeting you?"
"Yes. That's Adrian Gorten, the daughter of my old friend, the prosperous
plantation owner," Jason said facetiously.
"You're a lucky scoundrel, Jason." Wade smiled.
"We used to call her Addie, during the war."
"We still do," Sarah said sharply, standing right behind Jason and Wade. "Addie
is a friend of mine." Jason was startled by
Sarah's silent approach, and glanced down at her footwear. He should have heard
her walking on the wooden deck of the Sweet
Pea, and guessed she had moved toe first, like an Indian, as she eavesdropped.
"Good," Wade said smiling. "I have a feeling Jason might not introduce me. May I
count on you, Miss Dumont?"
"Oh, that's no problem," Sarah said.
"Let me see your telescope, please?" Sarah asked Rhinehart and he handed it to
her. She was wearing a beautiful, light blue
dress trimmed in white lace and carrying a matching parasol. The ship swayed in
the soft swells; and she took hold of the
rail to steady herself, before Sarah focused the instrument on shore. "Yes. I do
believe that is my friend, Addie Gorten.
But, Mr. Estes, don't get your hopes up. I've corresponded with Addie regularly.
She's still infatuated with her tall, dark,
handsome, and valiant Captain Pike."
Sarah turned her head to address Jason. "Addie still remembers you from when she
was fifteen, and you haven't changed at
all. I'm a witness to that. Good luck, captain, but I don't think you'll need
Wade was diplomatically silent and Jason cleared his throat, wondering what was
upsetting Sarah. She obviously knew who
Jason was and his relationship to Harry and Adrian Gorten, when they met in
Mobile. Jason's ego decided her mood was a
simple case of jealousy and changed the subject.
"There's a lot of shipping in the harbor." Little island-hopping sloops were
anchored next to big transatlantic barks with
steam-powered side wheels. "Wade, Where does all this commerce come from?" Jason
"Cuba," Wade answered. "They've been fighting the Spanish for the last seven
years. Hundreds of Cubans have immigrated to
"Refugees don't often bring business with them," Jason commented.
"Cubans do; the ones we got were merchants and manufacturers. They are very
industrious people. Have a cigar," Wade ordered
as he drew one from his breast pocket. "This is a Presidenté from Vicente Ybor's
factory. The United States has much lower
import duties on raw tobacco leaf than on finished Cuban cigars, so the growers
ship the leaf to Key West and they roll it
here," Wade explained.
"And the cigar makers," Jason said, "channel their profits back to Cuba to
support the revolution. I remember reading about
the Spanish ambassador's protests to Washington last year."
Wade continued, "Before the influx of Cubans, Key West was a quiet port: just
wreckers, fishermen, and a few spongers." Wade
lit his own Presidenté, savoring the taste. "Key West has an international
flavor you might not expect in a small Southern
port city," Wade said. "Aside from Cubans, there are a lot of English from the
Bahamas, Canadians, and shipwrecked seamen
from all over the world."
Off the western tip of the island, Jason surveyed Fort Zachery Taylor. The
heavy, iron Rodman cannons and Parrot rifled guns
were easily seen resting on the parapet of the triangular, two-story, brick
A small boat took Sarah, Jason, and Wade ashore. When Jason stepped on dry land
Addie embraced him with a strength he hadn't
suspected from her slender form. She kissed his cheek and then held him at arm's
length. Addie reached up and turned his
chin from side to side. "Well, I don't see any new scars. You've been lucky
since the war." She was pleased.
"You look fine too, Addie. You grew up into a pleasingly, attractive woman."
"I kept thinking of you as I was doing it," she said; and Jason would have
kissed her right then, except there were people
all around them.
Addie's dog was barking and jumping up on Jason's dark suit. He was a big, black
Labrador retriever, and any friend of
Addie's was a friend of his.
"Get down, Cump. Leave the Captain alone." She stamped her heel on the ground;
and the handsome dog immediately sat quietly
at Addie's side, still panting with his long pink tongue hanging out, and his
tail happily wagging back and forth.
Jason stroked Cump's head as the canine smelled his crotch. He knew Cump was
short for Tecumseh, General William Sherman's
middle name. "I named him after the general," she said and Jason nodded
approval, because Sherman had won battles with
"Where's your old man?" Jason asked.
"Up at Big Pine Key. We'll go up tomorrow or the day after depending on your
"Addie, just call me Jase. There's no need for titles anymore." She smiled at
Jason and turned to embrace Sarah Dumont, who
was standing attentive, waiting her turn.
"Sarah, you're lovely; your dress is magnificent," Addie said.
"You look wonderful, too. I'm so happy to be back. I love this island and the
peace of mind it brings to me."
Sarah turned to Wade. "Oh. Forgive me. Addie this is Wade Estes. And this is
Adrian Gorten, my best friend in this whole
wide, wide world."
"A pleasure, Miss Gorten. You are a lovely woman and certainly worthy of my
friend Jason's supreme efforts," Wade said with
typical Southern, satirical gallantry, Jason observed.
Then Rhinehart came up to the group. "Good morning Miss Adrian." He bowed, in a
jovial mood. "You look most attractive
today. Mr. Pike is a fortunate man," he said.
Addie blushed and said, "I haven't seen Jase in ten years. He'll have to win his
fortune, but I suppose he is off to a good
start." She took Jason's arm and looked radiant. Sarah gave them an appraising
smile and nodded knowingly. She said nothing,
and Jason knew Sarah was a true friend to Addie.
"Ladies, I apologize but I must drag these gentlemen away for a short space of
time," Rhinehart said. "Mr. Pike, I wish for
you and Mr. Estes to accompany me to make a report to Commander Scott."
"Did anything happen during your passage?" Addie asked. She stepped to the side
to inspect the Bluebird. When she was a
teenager, Addie used to take great satisfaction from digging bullets out of the
supply wagons and artillery caissons. For
Christmas 1864 Jason had given her a penknife as a present.
Casually, Jason said, "We scared off a bandit named Carney. I'll tell you about
it later, Addie."
Sarah laughed. "I'll tell you all about it right now. You gentlemen have to go
talk to the navy."
Their baggage was loaded on a small mule-drawn wagon; and Mr. Asbury found a lad
to distribute it for a minor compensation.
Jason told Addie he would meet her later for dinner; and she said to look for
the Samuels' house walking south on Simonton
Rhinehart, Wade, and Jason walked down Front Street past hastily thrown up
clapboard bars and flophouses for sailors off the
many ships that called on Key West. "Not the best part of town," Wade commented.
"Can I get a honest game of faro and a clean woman on Front Street?" Jason
"A game of cards and a woman, yes! The details, you'll have to handle yourself,"
Rhinehart laughed. "Whores and gamblers here, they will take your money, then
you get a drippy . . . " He held his hand down
between his short, heavy legs.
They turned south on Whitehead Street until coming to a turnoff, and then
followed a trail through tropical brush and palms
to the naval station. It was a small uncomplicated base with an old concrete
barrack, and a couple of wooden shacks looking
out southwest on the Straits of Florida. Not a warship was in sight.
A naval officer saw them approaching and waved to follow him inside his office.
"Good morning, Captain Rhinehart. I heard
you had an encounter with Carney," the officer said in a calm voice. "Sit down
and please tell me what happened," and he
gestured to three chairs. He was about forty years old, of medium height and
build, with a meticulously trimmed black goatee
and mustache under a straight, longish nose. He carried himself like an
aristocrat and looked like a Hapsburg. Jason had
seen a few, when in Vienna after the war. His uniform was perfect too, not as
pretentious as an Austrian prince, but
certainly too neat for a field officer at this little outpost of the American
"Yes, we did. Commander Wyatt Scott, this is Mr. Jason Pike and Mr. Wade Estes.
I have to give them credit for inspiring me
to resist Carney."
Wyatt Scott went behind his large desk and smiled as he sat down. He put both
his hands on the blotter, then noticed
something was amiss, and centered his quill and ink well by a half-inch. The
office was small with plain, whitewashed plank
walls, and bare except for pictures of Grant, Farragut, and a seaman's chart of
Rhinehart went through a short narration of the incident. Jason smiled because
the German sea captain was very proud of
himself for what Wade and Jason pressured him into doing.
Scott rubbed his goatee and tapped his finger tips rhythmically on the blotter.
"Doesn't sound like a tactic they'd teach at
the academy. But I won't criticize success. Congratulations on your good
"It was the kind of trick that only works once," Wade said.
Scott appraised Wade and Jason. "And for you two that's enough. But what about
the good captain here. What do you propose to
Rhinehart was perplexed. "What do you mean?"
Jason started this and decided it was his responsibility to explain, "You're not
a sheep anymore, Rhinehart. You better grow
"Yes, precisely. Carney will find new guns somewhere on the black market. Next
time he will shoot first." Scott ruined
Rhinehart's jubilant mood.
"Commander Scott, there is a certain amount of fatalism in what you say that I
find rather disconcerting." After all, Jason
didn't want to attempt a treasure salvage operation in pirate- infested waters.
"Why hasn't one of your ships sunk the
bastard?" Jason asked confrontationally.
"I only have three sloops to patrol from here to Jacksonville on the east coast
and to Pensacola on the west. Besides, the
Raven can put up a lot of sail. Even if we spot her, wind conditions have to be
perfect to force her to engage. What I
really need to stop Carney is a steam-powered frigate to chase down the Raven."
"Gentlemen, this interview has changed from a report to a discussion," Wade
said. "My relations are doubtlessly expecting
me. So if you'll excuse me."
Wade left and Scott said a little testily, "You'd think he'd be interested."
"He was probably uncomfortable sitting in a room with three Yankees," Jason
said. Scott's accent was from New England.
Rhinehart was a German, who had told Jason, "The Baltic is too cold." He had
come to the American South and bought the
Bluebird at a public auction, after she was confiscated as a blockade runner
during the war. Some would consider Rhinehart a
"I'm not a sailor," Jason said, "But I know the navy isn't going to assign a
frigate to a station this size without just
cause. You're going to have to concentrate your force and set a trap for Jack
Carney. You've got a squadron, even if a small
one, and only one sea wolf to catch."
Scott looked at his hands. He was weaving his fingers together and examining his
clean, even nails. "Perhaps this is a good
time to end this discussion. I don't want to keep you gentlemen."
"He's ambitious, isn't he?" Jason asked Rhinehart as they walked back along the
trail through green, thorny scrub and
"Every naval officer assigned here is impatient for a better posting."
"Well, the only way Wyatt Scott is going to get off this island is as a complete
fool, or maybe a hero," Jason predicted.
Wade Estes put his hands in his pockets and walked away from the naval base and
south, along Whitehead Street toward the
ocean. When Wade walked out on the rocky beach he took his shoes and socks off,
rolled up his pants, and let the gentle
waves lap at his bare feet, and enjoyed the squishy feel of the wet sand between
his toes, while thinking back to the days
just before the war. The children were young and strong. Lorena was so happy
when she played with them in this same surf.
That was all gone now. Wade looked northwest at Fort Taylor, to him, a symbol of
He walked gingerly along the rugged shoreline to the Harrington House, sitting
just off the beach at the end of Simonton
Street. The house was in disrepair and Wade did not think General Harrington
looked much better. "What are you doing walking
along the shore, Wade?" the general called from his back porch. "We've serious
matters to discuss. Come over here."
Harrington looked thin and was bent over, leaning against the railing. Wade
could hear Harrington wheezing as he climbed the
three steps to the expansive porch and shook the general's shaky hand.
"I wanted some time to myself before meeting people," Wade explained.
"You always were moody."
"Yes, I like myself that way," Wade said, and walked inside.
Harrington House's interior was also old and weathered from years of exposure to
the salty ocean wind that blew through the
large windows opening out on the straits.
The general was alone, as Wade expected, so he unbuttoned his shirt, took the
moneybelt from around his waist, and laid it
on the general's desk. "I almost lost this to Jack Carney," Wade said.
"How much is there? What we expected?"
"Yes, and a little more." Wade wondered why the general ignored his comment
about the pirate and stared at the old man
"Don't be concerned about Carney, Wade. I think that problem will work itself
out quite shortly." The general smiled, his
hand resting comfortably on the moneybelt.
"I believe it," Addie Gorten said. "He hasn't changed a bit."
"That's what happened," Sarah said, sitting with Addie in a canvas hammock. They
were under a stand of palm trees near the
Samuels home. Both girls had dressed down to light cotton blouses and skirts.
Their bare feet ran back and forth through the
sandy soil as the hammock swayed. "I never saw anything like it. Outsmarting
those pirates the way Jason and Wade did. It
was a life and death confrontation!" Sarah said all flustered.
Addie smiled but was not as excited as she might have been. Addie knew that
despite what she said Sarah wasn't aware of what
a perilous situation she had been in while the Raven assaulted the Bluebird.
Addie was also concerned about the whole
incident. This was an unfortunate first impression to make on Jason, considering
he came here to participate in a salvage
He was so handsome, she thought. Tall and lean, but also mature and seasoned. He
seemed so confident, even more than during
the war. Addie thought, with dread, about the possibility Jason would not want
her. That would be the worst thing to happen
in the whole wide world.
"Hey!" Sarah punched her in the arm. "Stop thinking about him and pay attention
when I'm talking to you," Sarah chided.
Addie instinctively punched Sarah back. "You can't hit me. Save that sadistic
tendency for your little Sunday school
children who will need ample amounts of discipline." And they both laughed and
embraced, reunited old buddies in organized
After Jason left Rhinehart, he walked down Duval Street and passed several large
houses and then an unusual, odd-looking
small white house with several dormers coming off the front roof. The sign on
the fence said the structure was Captain
Francis Watlington's home.
It was a breezy, pleasant afternoon, and farther on he came to a two-story wood
structure. On the sign hanging over the door
was printed DARCY'S PLACE. Jason walked inside. The room was decorated like any
other front room of a bordello, perhaps a
little barer. The red wallpaper wasn't velvet and the wooden bar wasn't thick
mahogany or polished as it might have been.
The spittoon was steel instead of brass. The room was primarily filled with
lounges, gaming tables, and a piano. It was the
middle of the afternoon, and Jason had the place to himself.
He pulled a chair around and sat down. Just being in a room Darcy decorated
brought back old memories of Darcy's last club
in Charleston, South Carolina. Darcy had moved to Key West in 1865 because no
one in Charleston had any money, after the
war, for her delectable offerings.
Jason first met Darcy during 1864. She was a spy and he had been her courier.
Darcy was an orphaned French girl, who
immigrated to the United States and worked her way up in her unchosen
profession. She had been an important person in
Charleston during the war, with access to some of the most influential men in
the Confederate government and the army. "It's
amazing what men won't tell their wives and will tell their whores," she told
Jason once. Darcy became disillusioned with
the Southern cause when Sherman's army invaded Georgia; and she decided to work
for Arthur Franklin, a staff colonel in the
espionage unit of the War Department. Franklin also recruited Jason. He wanted
an officer currently in Virginia, who
Sherman's staff knew and trusted, and who could also pass as a young,
Confederate deserter. In retrospect, Jason had
realized Franklin's coaxing was laced with compliments to lull him into a haze
On his first mission for Franklin-during 1864-Jason had traveled south, around
Richmond, quietly through Virginia and into
North Carolina. He joined a steady stream of Confederate deserters making their
way down to South Carolina and turned east
to Charleston, on the Atlantic coast. Memorizing Darcy's information about Joe
Johnston's defense of Columbia, Jason headed
south into Georgia, sneaking through the lines and reaching General Sherman's
headquarters in Savannah. Sherman had Jason
plot Johnston's troop dispositions on their maps; and they discussed the
speculations of Johnston's staff as he had heard it
from Darcy's tarts at Sunday morning breakfast.
Jason had walked into Charleston on a Saturday afternoon, barefoot and cold,
wearing tatters of butternut homespun, and had
begged some food at her back door. Darcy fed him and gave him a job as a
dishwasher for Saturday night and Sunday morning.
When they were alone, he asked for the intelligence report Franklin sent him to
get. "You just stay in the kitchen and
listen. You'll hear enough for Sherman," Darcy had assured him.
Sunday morning, Jason was standing at the sink washing glasses and last night's
pots and pans. A thin girl in a bathrobe
entered the kitchen and sat down at the table. "Who are you?" she asked. "Oh,
another of Darcy's deserters. Have any coffee
Jason brought her a cup. She was young, perhaps eighteen, with straight brown
hair, and had the cutest little pug nose
between big, beautiful eyes and a full mouth.
"Are there any honeybuns left? Can you put one in the oven for me? You're a nice
looking young man. Did Darcy make you take
a bath or did you do that on your own?"
"Uh, she told me to, ma'am." Jason tried to sound polite and stupid. "There's
eggs. I could fry up a couple for you. And
here's some preserves for your honeybun."
The girl smiled up at Jason, pleased at his attentive demeanor, just as another
woman entered and sat down. This one was
older, with a full figure, red hair, and a pretty face. "Morning, Melissa. May I
have some coffee, boy?"
"You look like you had a long night, Audrey," Melissa said.
"General Ponsonby had been drinking throughout the evening. He took a long
time," Audrey explained.
Melissa sipped her coffee. "Colonel Hollingsworth told me they are worried about
him. He's been tipping the bottle too much.
And Johnston wants to put Ponsonby's cavalry up front to keep track of Sherman's
"Can you make my eggs over-light or medium? I don't want any of that icky,
uncooked white stuff," Melissa said to Jason.
"Audrey, this young man says he can cook eggs."
Jason was worth smiling at now. "Scrambled, please, soft," Audrey requested. He
smiled back and placed a slice of butter in
an iron skillet.
Another girl entered in a bathrobe. This one was slender with black hair and
even, neat features on her oval face.
"Morning, Janetta," Melissa and Audrey both drawled.
"Coffee, please, and I take my eggs like Audrey," she ordered. Janetta turned
back to the other two. "Major Yancy spent two
hours crying in my lap last night. He never did get in the mood. And I
certainly, as God is my witness, tried my best."
"What was the problem?" Audrey asked.
"He said we're losing the war."
"I was with young Lieutenant Hays," Melissa offered sadly. "He says we've lost
the war, but no one wants to accept the
Jason poured the coffee and then, brought their honeybuns straight from the
oven. When the butter was sizzling, he started
on the eggs.
"The ones that are maimed are the worst for me," Audrey said. "They are so
ashamed of missing limbs. Sometimes I just want
to cry and I can't."
"I wish they'd negotiate a peace with the Yankees," Janetta said.
"No chance of that; our men have too much pride," Audrey answered.
"So did we, a couple of years ago," Melissa remembered in a wistful tone. Jason
broke her eggs onto the hot iron.
"Some of the older ones don't even want to make love to me anymore either," she
confessed to Audrey and Janetta. "They just
want to confide to me that we are going to lose and have me comfort them. They
can't tell anyone else. I mean generals, men
twice, three times my age, men who are pillars of the community, men like I wish
I'd had for a father." She wiped a tear
from under an eye. "Why did the Yankees do this to us?" Melissa finally asked,
shaking her head sadly.
Jason flipped her eggs and slipped them onto a plate. "Here, eat your breakfast,
girl," he told her.
"Where are you running from and going to?" Audrey fixed her eyes on the young
spy/dishwasher turned cook.
"I've been fighting from the beginning," Jason said honestly. "And I know the
same as you three. The war is lost. I'm going
home to Georgia and I'm gonna stay there."
Darcy came in and switched the train of the conversation to a more productive
track. She had the girls talk strategy as
Jason scrambled eggs. They played out the campaign on the kitchen table.
Johnston was the salt and Sherman was the pepper.
They used butter knives for infantry brigades. Audrey was the shrewdest, Jason
decided. If they gave her a commission and
put her on Lee's staff the war could last another year.
Suddenly, Jason forgot about the past, back on Key West, as a Negro girl poked
her head through a curtain at the end of the
room and saw him. "We're closed until after supper time."
"I'm off the Bluebird. I have a letter to deliver for a Miss Darcy Lamont,"
Jason said. "That's all I'm here for."
"I'll fetch Miss Darcy for ya."
Darcy entered the room and came around the bar. Jason rose from the chair. She
stared, and Jason enjoyed the surprise on
Darcy's face. Her eyebrows raised and she smiled, but said nothing.
Darcy was about forty-five now, and a red-headed woman who still kept a good
figure. "Miss Darcy Lamont," Jason ventured
apprehensively, "I carry a letter from some relations in Charleston."
She came to shake Jason's hand and receive the letter. "Charlene, bring us some
tea," Darcy voiced to the Negro girl in the
"You don't look much older than ten years ago," she said when they were seated.
"You're still lean and look fit." Darcy took
his hand and rubbed it between hers. "And your inheritance hasn't made you soft
"No, just the opposite," Jason said. "Rich men have to be strong and clever." So
she knew about his money. No surprise,
"What are you doing on Key West? You're one of the last people I ever expected
to see again."
"I'm here to visit Harry Gorten and his daughter. I stopped by to say hello."
Darcy looked around the room, slightly
frustrated. "You know this has to appear to be the first time I've ever met
you," Jason said. "If you have to think about
what I'm saying, you do it right now."
She sat back. "All right. You're a stranger who told the maid you stopped to
deliver a letter, thank you. What's next?"
Jason knew she suspected he might still be working for the government. "Darcy,
I'm a friend of yours. I just want to renew
an old acquaintance and maybe a new proposition." Charlene brought their tea and
a small plate of biscuits.
"Okay," she smiled and relaxed. "I am happy to see you. You look nice, and red.
Why don't you buy a proper hat?"
Jason told her about his passage on the Bluebird, the incident with Carney, and
even why Harry Gorten requested him to visit
Key West. Jason didn't want to keep any secrets from Darcy.
"So, you're associated with Harry Gorten and his ridiculous search for Spanish
gold. He finds a couple of doubloons and
thinks he has struck it rich," she laughed. "Jason, the Caribbean bank is
expansive. There is room for as much of your money
here as you choose to deposit."
"What do you know about Carney? Do any of his men shop in your store?"
"Don't you think you're putting the cart before the horse? Why don't you find
the treasure first, before you worry about
someone stealing it," Darcy said and sipped her tea. Now Jason knew why he had
wanted to talk to Darcy when he arrived on
Key West. She was a practical and intuitive person. Spies had to be. Jason cut a
deal with Darcy, so she'd let him know any
gossip that floated around Key West pertaining to Harry's and his enterprise.
Then they talked about old times. Melissa,
Audrey, and Janetta were all well-married, Jason was happy to hear.
He left Darcy at a little after three in the afternoon and walked back to the
waterfront, to find a bank and open an account
with his letter of credit. Then Jason went to look for the Samuels residence,
because that's where Addie was suppose to be.
He got directions from an amiable Cuban and walked south on Simonton Street,
until he saw the big white house on the left,
at the corner. Samuels had both a first and second story wrap-around verandas on
his house; and several massive Banyan trees
on two sides provided ample shade from the tropical sun.
Jason opened the gate of the white picket fence, walked to the porch, climbed
the three steps, then turned to look around.
It was lovely here, Jason thought. The breeze was salty off the ocean, but the
flowers and lush tropical growth also
provided a sweet scent to the air.
Then the front door opened and Jason turned back. "Hello, I'm a friend of Adrian
Gorten," he announced.
"Oh! We're expecting you, Mr. Jason Pike; I have no doubt. Everyone is waiting
to meet you. Come in, young man. I'm Salina
Samuels, Sarah Dumont's aunt." She was gray-haired, an older, more slender,
version of Sarah. They were all gathered in the
living room. Instead of a fireplace, there were French Provincial double doors
opening onto the first-story veranda. Other
than that, the house could have been plucked from an upper-class Boston
Addie was sharing a love seat with Sarah. The two of them were yapping away
incessantly. Several others were in the room,
including Wade Estes. He noticed Jason and walked over, shrugging his shoulders.
Jason understood what Wade meant. At the
end of a journey, socializing was mandatory.
"Oh, Jason," Addie jumped up when she saw him. "Come here and meet everyone.
Sarah told me what you did. Don't you ever try
to stay out of trouble?"
"Nope," Jason said without the slightest hesitation, wagging his head back and
forth, smiling like a floppy-eared puppy.
"Besides, Mr. Estes shares the same propensity."
"Freebooters can't be permitted to control the sea routes," Wade said, like any
good lawyer with political ambitions. None
of the others seconded Wade's exclamation for law and order. Some of them even
seemed embarrassed by what he said, and Jason thought this odd.
Addie introduced him first to Dr. Samuels, then General Harrington, followed by
several others. "Oh, there's someone who's
been asking for you," Addie said, looking around. "He's probably outside."
She guided Jason through the French doors onto the porch, which looked out on
the expansive lawn with the ancient, spreading
Banyan trees. "Rob, over here," Addie called and waved. A singularly tall,
slender man broke from a group under the trees
and walked to join them. Addie directed them to a small grouping of white wicker
chairs. "Rob Stevens, this is Jason Pike,"
she said and they shook hands. "Rob is the editor of the Key West Register."
"Yes, I was wondering when the press would show up. This is a tiny island. Are
you ever the last to hear of some crucial
event?" Jason asked, smiling easily.
"Frequently," Stevens said. He had a pale face to go with his fence-post body,
and an untrimmed mustache down around his
mouth to his chin. He looked like a librarian. Jason guessed Stevens was
probably very good at handling the drudge work
involved in regularly getting a community paper out. "If we didn't have revenue
from commercial advertising, legal notices,
and shipping schedules; we'd be out of business tomorrow."
"Do you do much editorializing?" Jason asked.
"No crusades at the moment." Stevens smiled, curling one of the droopy ends of
Jason nodded, satisfied. "Well, it was a pleasure to meet you." He stood up and
offered his hand again.
"I want to talk to you about the confrontation with the pirates. I only need a
few minutes of your time, Mr. Pike," Stevens
asked, obviously surprised at Jason's rebuff.
Jason leaned forward and offered a weak smile. "Of course, but not now.
"Addie, when do we sail tomorrow for Big Pine Key? I'm anxious to talk to your
She thought for a second. "We should sail in the morning between nine and ten."
To Stevens, Jason said, "I can meet you for breakfast at eight, and we'll have a
good talk. You can tell me about Key West,
and I'll answer your questions about the confrontation with Carney."
Stevens considered for all of two seconds. "Shall I pick you up here?"
Jason nodded. "And drop me at the dock." Stevens went back to the group under
the Banyans. They were a younger crowd,
twenties to forties. The older folks were in the house, their mood more sedate
and with less laughter.
Dinner was announced and Salina Samuels served up a delicious oyster chowder and
a tender, roasted rack of lamb. For Jason
the evening turned out to be pure heaven, after a week on the barren Bluebird.
After dinner the doctor offered brandy and
fresh Havana cigars, and the men went out on the porch to talk politics.
"I knew the Republicans' model of Reconstruction would fail. Silliest damned
postwar policy the Republicans came up with.
Everyone knows darkies can't take care of themselves," General Harrington said.
He was a thin, ancient man with long white,
wispy hair. His complexion was blotched with liver spots, and he had pronounced
cheekbones under narrow, drawn skin. Despite
his age, his eyes were alive and active.
"I have to admit they haven't been trying very hard," Dr. Samuels said. "The
administration, I mean." Samuels was a
distinguished looking man in his late fifties with a full and fluffy head of
"President Grant doesn't care about Reconstruction," Jason added. "All those
West Pointers are staunch Unionists. They don't
want to mix in what the states do as long as they stay in the Union. Does Grant
strike any of you as being a compassionate
person? He couldn't care less what you do with your darkies as long as the
abolitionists aren't stirring up trouble in the
"Jason is right. The only hotheads are in congress, not the administration,"
"Some negroes are worse off now as sharecroppers then they were as slaves,"
Samuels pointed out.
"My darkies in Mississippi are working the fields for a carpetbagger who stole
my land. He'll do nothing for them when they
get old or infirmed; I used to take care of mine," Harrington said, stamping his
cane on the floor.
"When the war ended, you gentlemen signed a pledge of loyalty to the federal
government," Jason reminded. "Only fools
actually thought the South would restructure the basic social order. Negroes
will have to win their own equality. The
process will take generations. Personally, I think women will get the vote
first." A barrage of laughter followed Jason's
"Both your suggestions are ludicrous, Mr. Pike," General Harrington said, with
the unchallengeable authoritative insight
only allowed to a man of his longevity and station. On the Bluebird, Wade had
told Jason that Harrington had served in the
House of Representatives until war broke out and then took a commission as a
Brigadier to organize volunteer regiments from
Mississippi. Jason tried to change the subject back to the pirates but no one
wanted to talk about the affair. Finally, he
realized they wouldn't share their real opinions on matters of local consequence
with a stranger, and especially a Yankee.
That night Addie slept with Sarah, and Salina Samuels put Jason in with a
visiting twelve-year-old nephew. Every time the
boy kicked Jason he woke up and thought about Addie. When Jason kicked the lad
back, he never woke up.
The next morning was hot and sunny, as Jason loaded a cart with his gear and
Addie's bags. Addie went through a long, mushy
goodbye with Salina and Sarah. Then Addie and Cump led a docile mule pulling the
cart over to Duval Street and north to the
Rob Stevens was prompt and Jason walked off with him. "There's a Cuban cafe near
my office, good breakfast." Maria's Cafe
was simple enough. She had a dozen tables in a front room with large open
windows to catch the breeze off the straits.
Stevens went right to a corner table in the back, and Jason followed.
A plumpish mid-forties woman came from the kitchen. "Roberto, buenos dias," she
"Maria," Stevens said. "Senor Jason Pike."
"Ah, Addie and Harry's compadre." She smiled, nodded, and promised to provide a
"All right, Maria," Stevens said. "Serve it up, but Jason has to sail to Big
Pine this morning."
She smiled. "Pronto," and ran back into the kitchen.
"What happened with Carney? How did you fight him off?" Stevens asked excitedly.
"I didn't do anything. It was all Rhinehart's show. Damned brave of him, too."
Stevens wanted to take notes, but he looked up at Jason. "Rhinehart said the
same thing about you. He said you threatened to
shoot him, if he didn't go along with your plan." So Jason knew Rhinehart had
prudently decided to back away from
responsibility for the confrontation.
Maria brought strong, sweet coffee in demitasses and a platter of fresh fruit
sections. "How odd." Jason sampled an orange
section and started in on the grapes. "If I shot Rhinehart, then who would sail
the ship?" he asked.
"His next in command . . . " Stevens paused and let a quizzical expression grow
slowly across his lean, placid countenance.
He put his note pad away. "You aren't going to tell me anything, are you?"
"I'll tell you this: don't print Rhinehart's version." Jason sliced a banana and
found himself pointing the knife with the
little round chunk of fruit at Stevens, before he ate it.
When Stevens sat back and seemed unsure whether to be scared, Jason leaned
forward and lured him in. "Listen, Stevens. No
good will come from you looking for a hero or a coward. Why don't you just say
that the captain, crew, and passengers of the
Bluebird made a collective decision to resist an act of piracy."
"You want to remain out of the spotlight, is that it?" Stevens asked.
"Precisely! I'm here to help Harry Gorten develop Big Pine Key, and that's all."
Jason stopped when Maria brought omelettes with sausage and a loaf of crusty
bread. They ate in silence, but for only a
"Big Pine is the largest island west of Marathon; it has to be good for
something," Jason said.
Stevens shook his head back and forth. "That real estate is worthless, except
for you to use as a cover. Are you a
government agent sent to help the navy get rid of the corsair, Jack Carney?"
Stevens queried, staring, and nervously
twisting a chin whisker.
"No," Jason said emphatically. "I didn't come to Key West to fight pirates. I'll
owe you a big favor, if you down play my
role in the incident with Carney."
"Ah! You mean you'll tell me first, when you start bringing up the Atocha's
treasures. So that possibly, just once, the Key
West Register scoops the local gossips. I would trade years off my life for that
to happen," he said sincerely.
Maria brought pastries and more Cuban coffee, while Jason wondered if the whole
world knew why he came to Key West. "Oh,
before I forget, Maria, Addie wants six or eight guava and cheese turnovers."
"I get you a dozen, since you go home. Harry likes them," she said in painful
"That's a deal, Stevens. In fact, once we set up salvage operations, I'll invite
you to visit us. Can you swim?"
Stevens smiled, then frowned. "I'll take you up on that, but I don't swim in
dangerous waters," he responded, biting into
one of Maria's pastries, guava paste clinging to his mustache. They finished
breakfast, said goodbye; and then Jason walked
north to the harbor, where Addie was waiting for him. Jason loaded their gear in
Addie's twenty-four-foot sailboat. Because
the one-masted sloop was named Pegasus, he anticipated a day of fast sailing.
She was rigged from bow to masthead with a jib
and a lugsail was furled around the boom.
Cump chose his own moment and jumped aboard. Jason pushed them off, away from
the dock. Addie had him hoist the lugsail, and
the boom ran out to starboard. The wind was coming from the northwest. They
quickly picked up speed, and Addie piloted them
south, out of Key West, to tack east toward Big Pine Key. "The lee side, the
Gulf of Mexico, would be calmer, but out here
we'll make Big Pine in seven hours or less," she explained.
"Take the tiller, Jason. I want to read this letter Lillie Watlington was so
anxious to give me." Addie opened a piece of
paper, read it, and glared at him angrily. Her body became stiff and her mouth
turned down into a thin, hard line. To Jason,
she looked very sad, hurt, and just plain mad.
"You went to Darcy's Place yesterday afternoon. Lillie Watlington saw you. How
could you do that, Jason?" she cried. "You
knew how I felt. Sarah told everyone how I felt about you! I would . . . I would
have . . . " She paused to wipe away her
first wave of tears.
Cump sat up when his mistress became distressed. "Now I have to worry about
catching something from you. I thought you were
better than that. I thought men grew more patient as they got older." And
finally, "I thought I was worth waiting for," and
the second wave arrived.
Damn! This was the worst thing that could happen, Jason thought. He had
compromised Darcy. At worst one of those righteous
Southerners would have her murdered, or at the least gossip about her until she
had to leave town, if they found out about
Jason's past connection with Darcy.
"Let me see that note. This is important, Addie," Jason said.
"Important!" she yelled. She raised her slender arms up and shook little fists
at Jason. "I'll let you see something
important." She grabbed the tiller her way; and the boom, four inches of hard
wood, swung toward Jason. He reached for it,
but only to cushion his being thrown overboard.
Jason just barely had time to take a breath before he hit the water. Cump barked
and jumped after him; and they both went
for a swim. Addie brought Pegasus around and Jason helped the Labrador back into
the boat and climbed in also.
"I didn't go there to be with a woman. I had to deliver a letter," he told her
and took off his shirt to wring out the
"You were there for exactly an hour and fifteen minutes," she informed him. "You
must be a very conscientious letter
"Why did you jump in the water with the likes of him?" she scolded the dog. Cump
"Let me see that note," Jason said severely. "This isn't a question of jealousy
or me cheating on you. I'm going to have to
personally see to Darcy Lamont getting safely on the first ship out of here.
That's before she's killed by some of your
friends," he plainly told her.
Addie grew quiet and willing to listen. Jason explained that he and Darcy had
been spies during the war, and her present
value to their endeavor. She showed him the note, now convinced that Lillie
Watlington's observance of Jason and her writing
to Addie was meanspirited, for the purpose of hurting her. Lillie was a homely
and envious old maid. In other words, Darcy
was safe. All Lillie's gossip would show was that Jason wanted a woman right
off, and wasn't the man of character that Addie
Gorten was expecting.
They sailed east all day, and Jason quizzed Addie about her relationships with,
and what she knew about the Key West gentry.
He was still concerned with Darcy's safety.
Pegasus turned to the north, toward a sandy island tall and thick with
evergreens, just as the sun was starting to set. The
bright orange orb was sinking into the Gulf of Mexico and bathing fluffy cumulus
clouds all across the vast sky in its warm,
"This is heaven on earth," Jason observed.
"That's my island in the sun." Addie, her long black hair waving about in the
stiff breeze, pointed to a safe harbor and,
smiling at Jason, joyously said, "That's Big Pine Key."
U.S. Federal Copyright 'TXU 603-893
Critique this work
Click on the book to leave a comment about this work