The wind greets me as I walk onto the deck of the Olympus Cruise, like an old friend giving me a slap on the back. It licks my ears and then whips off my baseball cap in jest.
It didn’t suit me, anyway. I’m not a hat person, but there is an unwritten rule that you have to take one on holiday. And that’s what this is—a holiday. And so I bought the cheapest one I could find and shoved it in my bag, intent on wearing it, which I did, for two minutes. Now I watch helplessly as it floats away on the waves, my hair dancing on end as though laughing.
My cabin is on the port side of the ship on the fourth floor. It is away from any resonance from the engine room, but close enough to the bow to feel the effect of the rolling waves. They are calm at present, but they have shown a tendency to grow angry towards the evening, usually as I make my way to one of the ship’s bars for some entertainment.
It amazes me how the mysterious and volatile sea can also give a sense of calmness. Perhaps it’s that the reality of land and sea are like oil and water; no matter how much you shake them together, they will not mix. Perhaps I’ve just been enjoying the free drinks too much. Either way, recent events have faded in my mind, which has allowed me to enjoy myself.
I, Prometheus, have enjoyed myself.
I have watched the dancers kicking and gliding their way across the dancefloor. I have listened to the musicians singing their hearts out. I have tasted cuisine from all over the world, and I have smelt the sea air as it cleared my head. I have enjoyed it all, and I have not needed my powers for any of it.
Today I must focus. I came on this cruise for a reason, and that reason wasn’t to enjoy myself. I have some treasure to find.
I have arranged for a trip to Tiverna Isle. It is not a tour you’ll find in the brochure for the cruise, but they say we’ll cater to all of your needs and so, with a bit of gentle persuasion and the payment of a somewhat extortionate fee, they agreed to meet my demands.
I make my way down to the prearranged meeting point, and I’m met by an old seadog who will take me there on a speedboat. He’s preparing the boat as I arrive. He looks up at me for a second and then returns to his jobs.
“I understand you’ll be taking me to Tiverna Isle,” I say.
He peers up at me and squints. His face has hard lines carved into it, and his white hair is tied into a ponytail at the back. He is a big man. Strong, despite age picking away at him, and he looks like he has spent his entire life out at sea. He scratches his beard, thinking, then returns to his jobs.
Perhaps he didn’t hear me.
“I understand you’ll be…”
“I heard you,” he says, cutting me off and continuing to ready the boat. His voice is deep and hoarse. It’s more a growl than anything. “I’ll be taking you, yes. If you still want to go?”
He fixes me with a hard stare. It’s then that I realise that he has a glass eye. It’s looking straight past me, and I try not to focus on it. “Yes, I would like to go,” I say firmly.
He carries on, staring at me, weighing me up. The silence seems to last an eternity, and then he says, “Very well. Jump on. I’ll take you, but you must swim the last bit. I won’t be stopping. Nothing good can come of going to Tiverna Isle. But I think you know that.”
I open my mouth to answer, then stop. I’m not sure how to respond. I carefully board the boat and sit down. “I didn’t catch your name,” I say. He never told me.
“Captain Rackham,” he says and starts the engine.
I look at him, open-mouthed, trying to figure him out. He can tell what I’m thinking.
“My family have been sailing the seas for hundreds of years,” he shouts over the clamour of the engine as the boat pulls away from the ship. “You might have heard of Jack Rackham and his paramour, Anne Bonny.”
I nod my head.
“Jack, or Calico Jack as most people knew him, made a career out of piracy. Small vessels, mainly. But then he hit the big time and captured a merchant ship called the Kingston. It would have made him rich, but the merchants sent bounty hunters after him. When they caught up with him, Jack escaped, but they seized his treasure.” Captain Rackham laughs. It comes out like a violent cough. “He also stole a sloop right from under the nose of the Spanish. Sailed straight past them as they blasted his old boat to smithereens.”
It is a story he has recounted many times, but he tells it as though it happened yesterday.
“He got a pardon for his crimes and met Anne, but once a pirate, always a pirate. Jack and Anne sailed the seas together, causing havoc wherever they went. Things couldn’t last, though. They never do. When Jack was caught by a pirate hunting boat, they executed him, but they spared Anne because she was pregnant. She gave birth to Jack the Younger, who was my great, great, great…great grandfather.”
Captain Rackham looks at me, a proud look in his good eye.
“That’s an interesting story,” I say. I’m not sure what the correct response is.
“So I know a lot about pirates and treasure,” he continues, “and I know when someone’s looking to cause trouble.”
He carries on staring at me, his face unreadable. The boat is jumping up and down on the waves, and I’m being thrown about in my seat, but Captain Rackham is perfectly still. I wipe the seawater away from my face as Tiverna Isle appears in the distance.
“Nothing good can come of going to Tiverna Isle,” he repeats. It’s a warning.
“Smuggling is a big deal around here. And Tiverna Isle is the central hub for all smuggling operations. The sort of people who deal with smuggling are not the sort of people you want to be hanging around with on your holiday. Trust me. But I have a feeling you’re not just wanting to go for a look around.”
“I’m looking for something,” I say, deciding to get to the point. We’ll be there soon, and if Captain Rackham knows about pirates and treasure like he says, maybe he can help me.
He grunts. “Who isn’t?” he says noncommittally.
“A wooden box.”
I watch Captain Rackham’s face carefully and see a flicker of recognition. It is there briefly. I’m sure of it, and then he scowls at the ground. “Plenty of places you can get a wooden box. You need not travel to Tiverna Isle for that.”
“No, but there’s a very specific wooden box on Tiverna Isle that I need.”
Captain Rackham stares at me again. I feel like I’m being examined from head-to-toe, and it’s unnerving. It’s like he can read my mind, and I know something about that. At least, I used to.
“What would you want with a wooden box?” he asks accusingly.
“Do you know where it is?”
“But there is a wooden box?”
Captain Rackham smiles and looks out to the sea. “Edward Teach. Have you heard of him?”
“Blackbeard,” I say, “of course!” Who hasn’t heard of Blackbeard?
“I once heard a story that Teach captured a ship so laden with treasure that there was too much to bury in one location. He entrusted Jack Rackham with one load, and Jack buried the treasure on Tiverna Isle. When they pardoned Jack, he sold out his fellow pirates, and Teach feared losing the treasure, so he moved it. Everything but one wooden box, which he thought was worthless. Others plundered the treasure after Teach moved it, but the box remains in its original location, untouched. When they hung Jack, legend has it that his last words were, ‘Don’t open the box!’”
“That’s it. It must be. Where is it buried?”
Captain Rackham laughs hard and slaps his thigh. “You think you are the first tourist who I’ve dropped off looking for the mysterious wooden box?”
I hadn’t even considered that others might look for it.
“How many of those do you think I have brought back?” he asks before I have the chance to respond.
“I’m guessing by the look on your face it’s a very low number.”
“None. None alive anyway. It’s a dangerous pastime, what you’re doing.”
Captain Rackham brings the boat to a stop, and I look around. We’re in a cove with a postcard beach and bright green tropical trees. Coconuts idly dot the floor, and someone has strung up a hammock in the distance. It looks perfectly peaceful.
“Are you sure you want to go ahead with this?” he asks as I breathe in the landscape.
“I don’t have a choice,” I mutter.
“Very well. You can swim from here. I’m not going any closer. I can’t be here.”
I decide not to pry any further and look down into the clear, blue water. It’s quite a distance to the shore, and I hadn’t realised that I would have to swim. I’m wearing white chinos and a Hawaiian shirt I bought on impulse; it’s hardly appropriate.
Captain Rackham sees my dilemma and laughs. “Jump in, or I’m turning around,” he orders, so I jump in and immediately feel uncomfortable as my clothes cling to my skin. The water is chilly, and I kick my legs hard to warm up.
“Go to Ruby’s Inn,” Captain Rackham shouts as he starts the engine. “Ask for Duncan. I’ll be back for you in a few days.”
And with that, he’s gone. I watch him as he turns into a dot on the horizon and then swim to shore.
Ruby’s Inn is an old shipwreck at the dock which has been transformed into a tavern. Amazingly, it is signposted from the cove, and so I find it with relative ease. My clothes are still wet as I walk in, and I leave a trail of wet footprints behind me. The barman looks up at me, a confused look on his face.
“I’m looking for Duncan,” I say and puff my chest out.
He carries on cleaning a glass with a towel.
“Who’s asking?” says a man sitting at the bar. Tattoos cover his body, and he has at least a dozen piercings on his face. He is nursing a bright-colored cocktail with a tiny umbrella. It looks refreshing, and I want one, but I don’t think now’s the time for quizzing him on his drink.
“Captain Rackham says I should look for Duncan.” I name Rackham hoping to speed things up, but it was a mistake.
“Where is he?” snarls the tattooed man, standing up from his seat and drawing a cutlass from nowhere.
I raise my hands defensively. “Not here, he dropped me off at the cove and told me to find Duncan.”
“You tell him,” spits the tattooed man getting in my face, “that next time I see him, I’ll slice him to pieces and feed him to the fishes.” He picks up his cocktail, slurps the remnants loudly through the straw, slams it down, and walks off.
“Don’t worry about him,” the barman says when the tattooed man is out of earshot. “Rackham stole something from him that he wants back.”
“Treasure?” I ask.
“No, his wife. Duncan is over there.” He points towards a corner of the tavern. “What do you want with the Aye Aye Crew?”
“The Aye Aye Crew?”
“Yes, Duncan is the chef for the Aye Aye Crew. Well, more of an assistant chef, really. Or an assistant to the assistant. You’ll see what I mean.”
I ask for the cocktail the tattooed man had (apparently it’s called a zombie pirate) and then walk over to where the barman said Duncan was sitting. I find an enormous man, at least 6ft 10 and all limbs, sat hunched in the corner. His knees are up around his ears, and his arms are flopped across the table. He is peculiar looking with skin white as snow and not one hair on his head. He watches me as I approach, his thin mouth agape. He looks worried.
“Are you Duncan?” I ask.
“Aye,” he says and nods his head.
“A man called Captain Rackham told me to look for you.”
“Aye,” he says again, and there is a look of recognition in his eyes.
“I’m looking for a wooden box, and I understand you might help me?”
“Aye?” he says and looks at me, unsure.
“Do you have a map or know where the box is?”
“Aye, aye,” Duncan says firmly.
I try to hide my frustration. This is tedious. “Can you show me?” I ask.
“Aye.” Duncan nods his head and then takes his shirt off. I think he has misunderstood me, but then he turns around, and I see that a map is tattooed onto his back.
It’s a map of Tiverna Isle, and X marks the spot.