Yesterday, Chief Salazar called and said the Sea Booty had been hijacked by a gang of smugglers, and there was a chance Daniel Westcott was on the boat. King-napped. Natalie had pressed the phone to her ear to steady her hand. The way Salazar chose his words¸ she knew he was trying to downplay the danger. She let him talk on. He'd just received confirmation that the Sea Booty was anchored at St. Ann's Bay, Jamaica. They didn't know exactly when the boat would head out and return to Tampa. But Salazar said he and Carlos Mendoza were putting a crew together to head off the smugglers before they reached the desolate spit of land on Egmont Key. When he stopped talking, an awkward pause followed. Natalie's mind raced. She thought to thank him, to apologize for the inconvenience. Nothing seemed right. So she invited him—and Carlos Mendoza—to dinner Sunday evening.
Late Sunday afternoon, just before the dinner party, Natalie was upstairs taking a bath. She thought she saw Daniel through the mirror. She blinked her eyes to clear the vision, but Daniel didn't budge. He was hunched over on the stool. As he folded and unfolded his hands, Natalie sensed something unnatural about him, far beyond the mischief in his eyes. His once-plump face appeared slack, paler than an onion. Skin hung from his lower jaw as if he were losing weight. How was that possible? Natalie splashed water over her shoulders. Since no one else had seen Daniel, she wondered if her mind were playing tricks on her. Or perhaps, Daniel was dead, but he'd left behind some unfinished business between them that he'd come back to reconcile. She shivered and added a bit of warmth to the bath. Maybe Daniel was still angry about the gunshots. Well, hadn't he dared her to pull the trigger? And besides, this disappearance act had worn out its welcome. She'd seen it all before—his gambling junkets to the Bahamas, his all-night binges. She'd even found photos of those island women who draped silk scarves over their naked shoulders. "Havana hussies," she called them.
Natalie remembered the night she'd heard Daniel's footsteps pounding down the stairs, and she raced to his gun cabinet to grab the revolver from the rack—and why? Because he was going out and leaving Natalie alone in the living room again? Yes, it was exactly that madness—that helium buzz, the giddy, high-pitched hissing that pulsed her brain with fiery reds and then spread black and blue like spilled ink until it was black all over and exploded into a smoking pistol—that drove her to shoot him, not once, not twice, but three times, all tripped by the eagerness of a twitching finger. That was the last time she'd seen him. Natalie stepped out of the tub. What she needed to know was—were the bullets in that gun blanks from a Gasparilla parade? Or were they real? Time would tell.
The sky had grown a deep purple above them, and a gust of wind blew through the yard with a fury. Becca picked up a chair to arrange it with some others in a semicircle under the live oak. The tree's limbs spread out like arms stretching across the backyard. A pair of jenny wrens hopped along the branches, squawking intensely at them. "They've been scolding me all day." Just as Becca said the words, the male swooped down and pecked the scarf off her head.
The lighthouse beam flashed on, and the masked man crouched low on the deck, his limbs crawling spiderlike. The revolver had landed within a foot of him. He lunged at it, sweeping it into his hand before Victor or Kurt could stop him. In an instant, the man sprang to his feet. He held his own pistol in his right hand and stuffed Kurt's gun into the back pocket of his black jeans. "Nice boat you got here," he said, waving Evan down from the ladder. "How about I borrow it for a while."
Suddenly Victor realized Salazar had left him and Evan unprotected on the Blew Bayou. He immediately started searching the bait wells, the pockets alongside the boat, for a weapon. He'd grope around in the dark, grab hold of something, and then examine it when the lighthouse flashed on. He found a fishing gaff, some lines, a net, and a set of boning knives. When he opened the leather box, the knives were lined up by length. He pulled out the two shortest ones and handed one to Evan.