Journalist Butch Sands is looking for a way home to Pedro Island, Florida a day after terrorists attack on 9/11.
Stranded in Key West, Butch waits at a bar, where he meets Vic Turner, a wealthy stockbroker who instigates a ?ght that lands Butch in jail for the night. But after Vic bails him out and invites him on a ?shing charter, Butch accepts, hoping the trip will help pass the time until he can ?nd a way home to his girlfriend and his job writing for the Island Courier.
While out fishing the gulfstream, Butch and Vic are taken by surprise when their boat is suddenly hijacked. After he is knocked unconscious, Butch awakens in a strange boat with his wrists bound. Moments later, he is reunited with Vic, who soon tells their Cuban captors that he is the sole owner of a buried treasure worth millions. With death seemingly imminent, Butch has no choice but to believe a man he has only known for a few days.
In this suspenseful adventure, things are about to go from bad to worse for a journalist caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. Left to rely on his instincts and pure luck, now only time will tell if he will ever be able to return to the life he once knew.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.32(d)|
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By Jonathan Herbert
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Jonathan Herbert
All rights reserved.
BUTCH LEANED FORWARD with both palms pressed against a smooth nautical chart and studied the oblong shape of Pedro Island. He wanted to be home with Hailey Thomas, away from this uncertainty. The inboard engine suddenly stopped. He held the round table for balance and looked up at a black handgun on the countertop. He was surprised to see the gun, and for a moment he watched the ladder that led up from the galley to the deck of the Lusca, a thirty-eight-foot Express Cruiser.
The boat rolled side to side and he turned his attention south of the Florida Keys. The Dry Tortugas were just west of the Marquesas Keys, five specs in a short line with one larger spec tailing off. The compass on the table showed their direction as southeast. He wondered how far they were from Key West.
If they followed the gulfstream, Bimini would be his best option for leaving the group. Two nameless islands, well north of Hispaniola, were both circled. Butch had no idea how far out in the gulfstream they were.
"Get up here, Butch!" Renkis said.
Butch climbed the ladder to find their excited Captain reaching for the wheel. Red cheeks and oval glasses bobbled atop a hefty frame and flip-flops. Renkis turned and pushed Butch aside. He labored to reverse their direction.
"Vic's got one on the stinger," Renkis said out of breath. "Make sure he's strapped in, Butch."
The larger of the five rods was bending. Butch held onto the railing and walked toward the stern. Vic Turner leaned back in the fighting chair and grimaced as he held the gold stinger rod. Two harness straps pressed against pale shoulders. His silver chain rose with expanding neck muscles. Eyebrows lowered and strain showed in dark squinty eyes.
"Did you see it jump?" Vic said. "Did you see it, Butch?"
Butch studied the choppy gulfstream water. He anticipated something would jump. He wanted a glimpse of the fish.
"It's a blue marlin, Renkis," Vic said. "She's bigger than the one from last week. Watch her jump."
Just then the bill of a blue marlin darted up from their wake, twenty yards out. The blue color of its body was smooth and darker than the water. For a moment the giant fish was suspended in midair, long and beautiful. A white splash followed, spraying saltwater over its massive frame.
Butch looked beyond the marlin, out past the dark water at the place where soft sky collided with the vast Atlantic Ocean. He knew Hailey Thomas was there, small against the enormity of land and water. Everything and everyone beyond the gray horizon felt lost to him. Something inside felt broken since watching the terrorist attacks on television two days before.
* * *
A brilliant orange sun fell, far beyond the stern, and a blanket of darkness began to surround the Lusca. Faint shadows moved across the white cabin from the running lights and grill fire. An overcast of clouds rolled in to block the moon and stars.
Vic sat hunched over the same fighting chair that had kept him from falling overboard hours earlier. He pushed black hair from his narrow face and reached down for the bottle of vodka. His blue shirt stretched across a slender frame. The bottle rose, and he drank more than a shot.
"Franklin had a daughter, she was four, I think," Vic said. "He always said she would swim in the Olympics one day, said she could swim beyond her years."
Butch listened as Vic talked about co-workers that were probably dead now. Hearing about them made the terrorist attacks more than just pictures on television. The more Vic talked about each one, the more vodka he drank.
"Now ... who knows what'll happen," Vic said. "Maybe she won't even want to swim if he's gone."
"Franklin sounds like a great guy. What a life," Butch said.
"Yeah, I knew Franklin for over twenty years," Vic said. "I've known him. We played high school baseball together."
Vic finished the bottle of vodka in two swift drinks and tossed it overboard. It was silent for several minutes. Renkis sat behind them, tending to the grill and large aluminum vat with market fresh stone crab he had purchased that morning in Key West, while everyone was asleep.
"Shall I get Gloria up here for dinner?" Renkis said. "She's been down there a while. Not sure what she's doing."
"Let her go, Renkis," Vic said. "She never eats with us anyway."
Vic shook his head and sat back in the fighting chair. He smelled like vodka and started to act drunk. Butch decided to change the subject and ask about Bimini.
"I need you to drop me in Bimini," Butch said. "I'll figure something out—"
"No chance, Butch. We'll head back to Key West in the morning. I just needed a break from all the madness. Fishing relaxes me."
"I never wanted to be out here in the first place, Vic."
"You agreed to it last night. Don't you remember?"
Butch was ready to head for Bimini now but knew that a commitment to turn around for Key West was a better option. He left it alone.
"I was drunk ... but I'm here now. I can live with heading back in the morning," Butch said. "And thanks for bringing me out here. Fishing has been a good escape from everything that's happened. My life has been so busy lately. I never have time to fish anymore like I want to. The gulfstream is amazing. I can't think of a better distraction."
Vic's two failed attempts to land a blue marlin that afternoon only fueled the need for Butch to drink and remember what the world was like before the terrorist attacks, even before he spent the night in a Key West jail. Fishing helped Butch feel normal.
"I don't know why I threw the bottle at the bartender," Vic said. "It was instinctive, I guess. Anyway, I'm sorry for putting you in that position, Butch. Sorry you were arrested. I know Renkis can clear your record. He's simply the best."
"I hope so," Butch said. "I just want to get home to Pedro Island."
Butch hoped this misadventure would soon pass. He would see Hailey and they would start their life together. He could go back to writing for the Island Courier and honing the art of tarpon fishing. He could be with her again. See her smiling face. Feel her comfort. Be the son-in-law Conrad Thomas expected him to be.
"Tell me, Butch, do you really love her?" Vic said. "I mean, really?"
"You asked me that question before," Butch said.
"Maybe you've changed your answer?"
"Absolutely, I love her."
It felt good saying it. He thought back to the moment of realization, the vision of her lying next to him months earlier. She slept as he watched her battle restlessness. He would eventually miss a deadline with his editor the next morning, but it did not matter. Nothing else seemed to matter lying next to her. She did that for him.
"I almost believe you," Vic said with slurred speech. "But that's what I said about Francine when we got married. And then, she turned into a completely different person. Not to mention the extra weight she's carrying now. I know it sounds bad, but she let herself go."
Renkis cleared his throat behind them. He found a seat on the deck next to Vic, wine glass in hand, and pointed at Butch. His arm moved side to side.
"Listen, Butch, as an attorney, I've been involved in countless divorce cases, some better than others. And most of them were valid one way or another. Too many times, I've represented the typical guy with everything to lose. Vic is a perfect example. Look at the poor bastard. Nice houses, sports cars, trust fund, you name it. And nine times out of ten, it's because his wife started ignoring his needs and on cue, the younger women noticed it and went in for the kill. Just wait until you're successful. And remember, men age better than women."
"Listen to him, Butch. He knows what he's talking about," Vic said. "Hell, I'm living proof."
Butch grabbed another beer from the cooler and opened it. His buzz continued to strengthen throughout the afternoon and early evening. He disagreed with what they were saying because his own parents had set precedence for marriage and he felt good about his chances with Hailey. Besides, he knew journalism would never make him rich. And he also knew it was meant to be. He felt that Hailey loved him without the money. And he could not remember a time his parents were not happy together. His mother always smiled around his father. Money had nothing to do with their happiness. He had always admired his late father's work as a journalist. It felt good to follow his lead. It felt good to write for a living.
"Fine, I'll consider both of your experiences," Butch said.
"That's right, Butch, don't make my mistakes," Vic said.
A heavy current pushed against the hull of the Lusca. Butch wondered what Hailey was doing now. He wanted to be home on Pedro Island. He wanted to be with her without the rest of the world.
Two gunshots sounded off the port side. Another gunshot was followed by a man's voice. Vic turned and motioned for Renkis to get down.
"Get both guns from the cabin, Renkis," Vic said in a low voice. "Tell Gloria to stay put. You okay, Butch?"
"I'm fine," Butch said.
"Good," Vic said. "Stay down."
Renkis disappeared below. Butch lay down away from the railing and listened for anything else. Vic stood from his seat and waited. Renkis hurried up and handed one of the guns to Vic. He immediately fired off a shot overhead and waited for a response but nothing came. Several seconds of silence followed.
Butch watched Renkis and Vic stand back-to-back, guns drawn. They each had a look of newfound sobriety. He looked over the railing and noticed a green light off the stern just as an engine started in the distance. He felt helpless without a gun but stayed still and waited for instruction.
The light grew brighter as the boat approached. Renkis pointed his gun at the light but Vic waved him off. Renkis turned and they both stood facing the light until the boat was close enough to push waves against their hull. The engine finally shutoff.
"Who's there?" Renkis said.
Vic nudged Renkis in the back just as a man's hand reached the railing. Renkis was quick to grab the hand and lifted fingers off the railing. A splash followed.
"Easy, Renkis," Vic said.
Suddenly, more gunshots rang out. Vic pulled Renkis to the deck. Butch stayed low. They huddled in a group and waited for the gunshots to cease. The shots lasted long enough for two men to climb onboard.
Renkis took a swing at one of the men and missed. Butch stood to help him but was tackled from behind and punched in the back of the head. Vic scrambled to help Butch but was tackled by a third man.
"Shoot the bastards, Renkis!" Vic said with panic in his voice. "Kill them all!"
"I dropped my gun, Vic. Do you see it?" Renkis said.
Butch rolled over to avoid another blow to the head and felt the gun under the small of his back. He grabbed it and turned again to break free. Once separated, he pointed the gun at his attacker. The butt of the .45 was warm with sweat.
Butch sensed someone behind him and turned and fired two shots. The deafening gunshots preceded a deep grunt. He heard the screams and listened until the victim fell overboard. Someone reached their arm around Butch's neck and began to choke him. All sound went away with the splash from the fallen body. He tried to fight off the attacker and swung frantically behind him.
"Where ... you ...? Was ... in the water?" Vic cried out. "What ...?"
Butch only heard certain words. The rest of the noise blended in with everything else. He tried to break free from the headlock but could not. The rush of adrenaline began to fade.
Blows rained down on the back of his skull but they came without pain. There was only confusion. He gasped, needing Vic or Renkis to set him free. They never came. Everything went dark.
DAYS BEFORE THE Lusca was attacked, Butch sat motionless in the backseat of a yellow cab. He watched the passing Atlantic Ocean side of Key West and tried to reason with what airport officials reported an hour earlier. The welcoming site of a payphone on Duval Street prompted him to have the cab driver stop.
"This is fine. I'll walk the rest of the way," Butch said.
"I can take you farther," the driver said. "The Blue Marlin Motel is a good walk from here."
Butch ignored the offer and handed the red bearded man what he owed plus tip and hurried out to the street. He pulled a single suitcase from the trunk and walked toward the payphone, anxious to talk to Hailey and let her know he was okay.
He dialed and waited. The late morning sun was bearing down on the blacktop. He started to sweat with the humidity under a navy polo shirt. The heat reminded him he needed to shave and cut his hair that was longer than usual. It curled at the ends and covered his forehead. He looked at his reflection on the faded metal of the payphone. Tired eyes stared back at him. Hailey answered after three rings.
"Hailey, it's me."
"Oh, thank God. I was so worried."
"I don't understand. How did that happen? I can't believe it happened while you were flying."
Her frightened tone accentuated the unanswerable question. He did not know what to say. There was nothing he could say to solve this problem. He had not yet seen it on television.
"Can you believe someone could do this? Why would anyone do something—"
"I don't know. They just told us in the airport."
A long pause followed. He listened to her crying again. He tried to imagine seeing it happen in person, standing there and looking up at the enormous smoking towers.
"I can't watch it again," she said. "I didn't want to see it the first time, but I couldn't look away. It was horrible to watch."
"Try to calm down, Hailey."
"I just want you here. I'm scared. You should have come home first and driven down. You'd have a car now."
"I know. I want to be there too, but it's at least a five-hour drive from here to Pedro Island. That's if I had a car. You know I want to figure out a way home but I have to see if the others made it down. Maybe Kevin will show up soon? We can find a way home together."
"Have you heard from him?"
"No. I hope he's waiting for me in the motel room. He had an earlier flight from Colorado Springs, but I think there was a layover in Atlanta? Archie and Jimmy were flying down from Maine this afternoon, but I guarantee that flight was cancelled."
"Oh, I hung up with your mom just before you called. She hadn't heard from either one of you. You should call her."
"Listen, stay home with your family and I'll call you in a little while. I still need to get to the motel. Just call her back and tell her I'm fine. Not to worry about me."
"My room number is twenty-two if you need me, Hailey."
"Call if you need to talk. I have to go."
"I love you, Butch."
"I love you too."
* * *
Butch sat inside a crowded Key West bar, one day after the terrorist attacks. Cigar smoke clouded the dark barroom with license plates freckled across the wood ceiling from as far away as Wyoming and Idaho. Every stool was occupied at the bar. He hoped Kevin would walk in any moment.
To pass time, he studied an oval-cut diamond engagement ring set in sterling silver. The ring had stayed in his pocket since departing the Greater Cincinnati airport yesterday, and it helped him focus on something other than the television. The attacks replayed over and over. Everything and everyone in the Conch Republic seemed to have slowed down.
Butch lit one match after another and watched them burn almost down to his fingertips before he would blow them out. Anger was the only emotion he felt. He tried to formulate the images he had seen over and over on television into something real.
The attacks made him think about American history. He thought about the Revolutionary War and the perseverance of George Washington. He wondered how John Adams would react to something of this magnitude.
He thought about his grandfather in the Second World War. He wanted to hear his grandfather's opinion of the attacks and listen to his ideas for retaliation, what he might think of without political correctness. He remembered the black and white photograph his grandmother kept of his grandfather; gun in hand, standing amongst other soldiers in a Construction Battalion. He imagined the soldiers building runways in Okinawa, under fire at times, and thanked God for his grandfather's survival.
Excerpted from Silver King by Jonathan Herbert. Copyright © 2013 Jonathan Herbert. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
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