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Atlantic Storm’s masthead towered high above the emerald waters while a stiff breeze strained at her acres of white canvas. The tropic sun shimmered off the onrushing sea as it smashed against her bow that cut a crisp tack through the salty chop. Atlantic Storm moved silent, graceful, her reflection casting a gray silhouette on the white coral sands not fifty feet below. On the distant shores, and on the decks of other boats, curious onlookers gazed at her sleek 214 feet with respectful awe and excited admiration.
Atlantic Storm entered Moorea Yacht Harbor in the Tuamotu Archipelago with delivery crew standing proud about the aft deck; all wearing bright smiles and white teeth set behind dark tanned faces. Behind them, the new owner’s colorful ensign, the Confederate battle flag overlaid on the British Union Jack, flew equally proud from the aft life-rail and snapped sharply in the breeze.
High above the harbor, atop a windswept and craggy ridge of the towering extinct citadel of Makemo volcano, the afternoon sun glinted off steel-blue eyes. Lachlan Hawke bent his six-foot-four frame forward, smiled to himself, and watched through his telescope as the flotilla escorted Atlantic Storm to her docking berth. His dark-blue Polynesian shirt decorated with a light pattern of tropical birds, fluttered in the brisk wind while his graying brown hair blew forward around his hands shading the bright sun from the telescope. He worked his balance in the gusting wind, swiveled the telescope to another compass heading, and focused on the distant curiosity he climbed Makemo to see.
For the first time, he observed the brilliance of the remote isle’s beaches striking a vivid contrast of her deep tropical green flora not unlike the blinding white of high mountain snows against frozen evergreens. The reflecting sunlight streamed upward from her silver strands of lustrous coral sand similar to an arid desert’s heat waves rising toward a sun-blistered sky, or even the mystery of an aurora borealis erupting into the inky blue of an Arctic night. Only it wasn’t night, it was full daylight, and the shimmering colors mesmerized Hawke until a sharp gust snapped him back to reality.
Lachlan Hawke examined her curious mysteries for several more minutes then carefully packed up the telescope, slung it over his shoulder, and walked briskly down the winding trail traversing the steep face of Makemo.
Some few hours later, he drove his Jeep into the marina and parked in front of his old yacht, Confederate. Well-serving as she was, she sat proudly at her dock with Atlantic Storm’s delivery crew waiting to take her to a new owner.
“Hi, guys. How’d she handle on the way down?” Hawke asked with a bright smile and feeble attempt to throttle his excitement.
Captain Brady beamed back. “Let me put it to you this way, sir. She handled a hell of a lot better, that’s for damned sure, a hell of a lot better, than any wheel I have ever helmed.”
Hawke grinned to himself, looked at the cold beers held firmly in the crews’ sun weathered fists, and put a scowl on his face. The crew looked at their beers and stole glances at each other in uncertainty. Hawke just looked at them saying nothing as they fidgeted. One slowly set his beer down on a nearby table. Hawke had their attention and paused a bit longer.
“Well?” Lachlan barked. “Are one of you seadogs going to toss the old man a cold brew, or not?”
After exchanging a few sailing yarns over as many beers, he signed Confederate’s release papers for the yacht brokerage. He then walked back up the gusting Makemo trail, stood on a rocky crag and watched in fond reverence until her sails slipped from view on the northern horizon. With a goodbye salute to his old partner, he returned to Moorea Yacht Harbor and stepped onto Atlantic Storm’s deck with authoritative command of his new ship. He moved his eye slowly down the length of the black Malayalam teak decking reflecting the movement of whisping clouds and blue sky from high above her towering mast. Her white cabins gleamed bright in the afternoon sun; constructed of fiberglass, honeycomb aluminum and piercing resistant Kevlar composites, and interiors over-laminated with the same Malayalam teak, a dark reddish brown that was almost black.
Hawke took a deep breath, turned and met his reflection on gold-tint Lexan windows set into the double mahogany doors of the pilothouse. He pressed down gently on the polished brass handles. The latch opened with a solid, heavy metallic click as he stepped across the threshold and up seven steps into a technological marvel of SatLink navigation systems, weather and collision radar screens, digital depth plotters, telex and SSB marine radio, two console mounted SatPhones, and helm computer terminals mounted into Atlantic Storm’s red mahogany cabinetry.
In the center of Atlantic Storm’s main-deck pilothouse was a spiral stair that led downward to the engine room. Its rich, royal blue carpeting reflected a bluish, metallic hue off the polished stainless-steel walls. Three Caterpillar C32 DI-TTA V12, 1400 diesels, cross-linked through a hydrostatic transmission driving three screws 44 inches in diameter. They sat in the center of the room. Two engines forward, one aft and center. The massive, bright red engine blocks glittered with alloy castings suitably polished to a high luster. The NASA engineered material provided unsurpassed sound insulation and significant mitigation of vibrations. Hawke just stood there, listening to nothing and feeling nothing but the hollow, motionless silence, yet he could almost hear their formidable power throttling Atlantic Storm toward new horizons limited only by his imagination.
Through another companionway, leading 12 steps up, he found himself in the main salon. An ambiance of tranquility, ordered intention, and impenetrable security overwhelmed him. The cabins sported both traditional and contemporary designs resolving themselves through a thoughtful use of leather upholstery, Malayalam Teak, KoaWood, mahogany, and selected metals polished to a gleaming satin luster. The result was an inanimate love affair radiating a no nonsense atmosphere of extraordinary luxury, conservative elegance, and pleasing simplicity.
Hawke looked around the salon, recalled the many charts he studied during her commission, and went directly to the refreshment center installed against the port hull. He stepped behind the handcrafted OliveWood bar, selected a bottle of frozen Glenlivet from the freezer, and poured himself a double. He took a slug of the icy scotch, and then walked across the salon to an overstuffed leather chair sitting in front of Atlantic Storm’s SatLink NavStation. He smiled with confidence and glanced at the displays glowing with active data files and colorful graphics.
His thoughts drifted to the distant edge of the archipelago as he recalled the fanciful tales of many a sailor who proved the folly of attempting to breach the infamous isle’s reef. Although he hadn’t seen it, he imagined the debris from antiquated brigantines, schooners, and assorted modern vessels lying where they sank to their demise. Sitting quiet and lifeless like haunted ghosts of their past. Beyond the sea-torn reef, he envisioned the scattered remnants of old shacks, fire pits, and the curiosity of an abandoned lean-to here and there.
Hawke drifted further in thought and recalled the tales of murderous drug traffickers, slave traders, and pirates that frequented that isle owned by the devil—or so the natives believed. Not the pirates of yore, with gleaming daggers clenched in their rotted teeth and leather patches strapped over blinded eyes. The pirates of the modern world. The murderous cutthroats trafficking in human misery and expendable lives. That and the infamous renown of whitetip sharks that cruised the reef gave sufficient reason for all but the most foolhardy adventurer to steer well clear.
He took another drink of his icy Glenlivet, reflected on the excellence of Atlantic Storm’s integrated components, and wondered in thought about the mysterious isle sitting at the edge of the archipelago’s distant perimeter.
BackStreet – A week later
The full impact of what was about to happen in Hawke’s well ordered life collided headlong with his still rational intelligence when he realized, after searching the legal records in every government and real estate office in the archipelago, that no-one knew who owned the island, and apparently never had.
With that perplexing information, or the lack of it, he engaged the curious isle as an operations target, stood tall at the helm of Atlantic Storm, and set sail toward her mysterious realm. The following day, he circumnavigated the isle several times before dropping anchor near a sandy shoal to the isle’s leeward. Taking another day contemplating the obvious lunacy of attempting an entrance through the reef alone, even in a small skiff, he returned to Moorea committed to finding a guide, or the elusive owner.
Soon fatigued from asking questions in Moorea’s local businesses, he soon realized that his gumshoe routine had led him nowhere but back to where he started. Abandoning all warnings from affluent islanders to not nose around and ask questions of BackStreet natives, he concluded he wouldn’t find out anything by the present means and walked through the low, swinging doors of a BackStreet bar on Moorea Major.
The rancid odor of stale ganja smoke and ammoniated urine hit him square in his nostrils as the tattered doors swung back and forth behind him on ancient, squeaky hinges. Hawke stood motionless for a moment, anticipating that vomit might rise from his throat. He forced his stomach to settle and panned the interior of the dingy club.
The drunken chatter filling the room hushed. Hawke stood alone in the doorway, the bright sun silhouetting his tall physique. No sooner had he made out the nude paintings hanging on woven palm-fronds behind a makeshift stage when the Congo drummer ceased his rhythmic cadence. The shapely young thing next to him stopped her lewd and suggestive dance and fled through the tattered hangings while menacing eyes glared at him from a dozen sweaty faces set atop hunched figures that hadn’t seen a bath in weeks.
He looked carefully around the room, walked purposely toward the bar, and stopped in front of the bartender. A native man about five feet tall, and nearly as wide, stared into his eyes from an obese face resembling the size and shape of a lumpy volleyball. His pitch-black skin glistened from greasy sweat that streamed downward from a matted mess of dread-locks and trickled across his shirtless chest.
Hawke forced an emotionless smile, carefully put his right hand into his pants pocket, and retrieved a roll of one hundred dollar bills. He kept his eyes on the greasy figure before him and slowly peeled off the top bill. “I’ve heard that if a guy wants to have fun and find out what the islands are all about, then ya have to rub shoulders with the natives.” Hawke panned the room slowly, and then continued. “Set up a round for the bar, I’m buying.”
The bartender remained silent, turned his head, and glanced toward the back of the room. Hawke followed his line of sight to a table set next to the dancer’s stage. The club’s owner stared at him through the stale smoke and deathly silence for a few moments, then, almost imperceptibly, nodded his head.
The bartender looked back at him and carefully moved an obese hand the texture of a shriveled cantaloupe, toward the hundred-dollar bill.
“Wha’da ya want, mister?”
“I doubt you have Glenlivet, so why don’t you give me a rum and orange juice.”
“We have Glenlivet.” The bartender said matter-of-factly. “What are ya buying the bar, mister?”
Hawke turned around and panned the silent room staring back at him. “Well, if they can make it to the bar, get them whatever they want. And as long as I enjoy myself, you just keep pouring them until I tell you to stop.”
The owner sharply clapped his hands twice and the drummer resumed his cadence. The girl emerged from behind the tattered curtain, resumed her rhythmic dance, and the club’s patrons gazed longingly toward the owner. Another silent nod granted permission to accept the American’s offer. One-by-one they went forward, being careful to keep their distance from him. Their usual diet of warm, flat beer replaced with doubled-up hard drinks with ice, was an extravagant luxury most of them could rarely afford, if ever
Hawke watched the bartender pour from a frosted Glenlivet bottle and set the glass in front of him. He smelled it and carefully took a drink. It was scotch, but it wasn’t Glenlivet. He took another drink and smiled to himself when he realized no change from the hundred was coming either.
A grizzled old man, maybe five feet tall and as dark-skinned as the ancient teak bar, took a stool two slots down. He looked over at Hawke, raised his drink in a weathered and feeble hand and cracked a faint smile. “Thanks, mister that was mighty kind of ya.”
Hawke raised his brows and nodded. “My pleasure, old timer.”
The old man looked back with curious, deep set eyes as black as his skin. “What brings you in here, sonny? Not too many rich American’s come into this neighborhood, let alone in here. Ya either got guts, or yer just plain stupid. Which is it, sonny?”
“Like I said, old timer, I’m looking to find out what that islands are all about, from the native’s viewpoint.”
The old man stole a careful glance around the room and lowered his voice. “If yer not careful, sonny, that can get ya in trouble around dis place. These folks don’t take kindly to strangers, especially rich American’s.”
“I don’t want trouble. I’m just need someone that can tell me about that island on the edge of the archipelago. The one you folks call The Devil’s Isle.”
The old man downed his drink, ordered another, and looked back at him. “What is it ya wan ta know bout dat place?”
“I want to pay someone to guide my boat through the reef. Someone that knows these atolls and knows what he is doing. If you can find someone, there’s a hundred bucks in it for you.”
The old man’s eyes lit wide. “Hey der sonny, ye’ll bust yer boat to pieces if ya try gettin into dat lagoon, or anywhar near dat reef. Ye’d be smart to stay clear o’ dat place! The devil lives on dat island, I knows he does. An dat reef is his killer, it’ll kill ya faster’n ya can think about it! And if’n it don’t, dat coral sand will blind yer eyes fer good.”
The old timer took a puff on his crude, handmade teak pipe and continued. “I lost a nephew and a couple of his friends to dem damned whitetip sharks. And, I’ll tell ya sonny, I have a hunert stories bout dat place, and another thing—
Hawke grinned to himself, slipped a twenty under the old man’s fingers, moved to the other end of the seedy bar and took an empty stool. He glanced back at the old man. He was still talking, but to no one.”
Hawke sat quiet and watched the dancer. He bought two more rounds at a hundred dollars a whack, and talked with the patrons that offered nothing but amusing answers to his questions. Hawke got nowhere, at tremendous expense, rose from his stool and looked at the bartender. “I won’t leave you a tip. I’d imagine you have a pretty good one skimmed off already.”
The bartender glared back and said nothing as Hawke walked toward the bright sunlight and thick smoke that streamed through the swinging doors. No sooner had he left his stool than the owner nodded his head. A patron general slipped in behind and broke a pool cue hard across Hawke’s back.
A pain shot through his shoulders and ripped through his head like lightning hit him. The bright sunlight dimmed to glimmering stars against a blackened canopy as he hunched forward and collapsed to his knees. After a few dizzy moments, he raised upright, still on his knees, and turned slow. He looked over his shoulder at two patrons that stood over him. One held the large end of the broken pool cue, the other a rusty machete that he leaned against his shoulder, the chipped blade faced forward.