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.
As the Lady Luck approached Egmont Key, whenever the lighthouse beam flashed across the water, Victor could see Captain Mortenson on the Bertram's fly bridge, wagging a cigarette at them. Once within earshot, Mortenson told them to throw the anchor. Evan scrambled down the ladder to follow the captain's bid. A southeasterly breeze had kicked up with enough gust to dry the sweat from Victor's T-shirt and ruffle his hair. But in spite of the wind, the water gleamed as smooth and reflective as God's own mirror.
While Victor and Evan motored out to Egmont Key to head off the smugglers, Becca and Natalie waited in the living room of the Westcott Mansion for Victor's Uncle Carlos to relay any news from the search. Natalie had grabbed the phone when it rang, hugged the receiver to her ear.
"Early?" Natalie asked, her voice aquiver. Becca knew she was talking to Carlos Mendoza. She clasped her hands over her belly and waited. The air conditioner clicked on with a whirring noise, like the old vacuum that droned through the house so loudly that when Niobe turned it off, the house became still, somber as a deserted church. Becca didn't know which was worse, the eerie silence or this new arrival. She shivered.
At nine o'clock Monday night, Victor and Evan followed the Blew Bayou out of the marina at the yacht club into the Hillsborough Bay. Even though the sun had set over half an hour ago, the evening came on heavy as a hog's breath. The night weighed in at ninety degrees. Victor sat bolt upright in the captain's chair, his senses firing at top speed. Earlier that afternoon, Captain Mortenson had shown him how to navigate the Lady Luck. While it proved to be much like driving a car, the captain had suspected immediately that Victor had little boating experience.