Curse of Cortes'

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Chapter 15: Plunder Port of Call

Plunder Lust, Port of Belize, Belize

June 19th 10:03 am | 44 hours to Mayan chaa

Miguel feeds on the energy generated when the Plunder docks at port, when both the crew and ship plug back into civilization united in one purpose - to prepare the Plunder for sea again. No one enjoys shore leave until the crew addresses core ship needs to refuel, restock, repair, and replace broken or worn-out parts necessary to get the ship ready for an unexpected quick departure. Not that he expects one, except that over the years he’s learned to expect the unexpected.

The science team head to the local farmer’s market to refresh food stocks. An overwhelming crew vote banned Ben from the galley, so Mai and Brenda drew up a new menu with fresh vegetables and fruits to augment the ship supply of canned or frozen something, or other. While Hansen, Jackson, and Moses hunt down ship supplies and used parts for a forty-year old vessel, Ben and Dave work on engine repairs and maintenance with the few parts they have in stock.

As always, Xavier gets a pass from other ship duties to focus on security. Brilliant at monitoring multiple channels of chatter across radio, law enforcement, military, and dark web networks, Xavier needs the extra quiet to investigate disturbing news from his journalist sister regarding the sleeper cell mystery. Rather than a local event, Nacon posted similar signals across Latin America.

In the meantime, Miguel does his best to entertain the Belize Harbor master Captain Remi Borealis who showed up early insisting on an impromptu inspection. As captain, Moses would normally deal with these tours, but with Moses gone the job falls to Miguel. After a mandatory inspection of the storage and engine rooms, he leads Captain Borealis by the cannon lab to meet the attractive Cambridge archaeologist, eager to show Plunder Lust as a legitimate research vessel, a tough-sell considering the poor condition of the ship.

“Captain Borealis,” Darcy greets him with a pleasant smile, handing him a photocopy of the Panama contract. “We’re under contract to the Panama government for an historic salvage near San Lorenzo,” she explains. “Hurricane Stephanie forced us to abandon the site, but we are under a deadline and plan to return as soon as possible.”

Her story more or less aligns with Miguel’s version, but it sounds more believable with the British accent. The harbormaster hands the contract back to Darcy, and then casts a long dubious glance at Miguel, narrowing his eyes.

“Hey, didn’t you used to be that big-shot American treasure hunter?” he questions.

The term ‘used to be’ hits Miguel like a cannon ball to the gut, and the humiliation of having it said in front of Darcy burns even worse. Instead of searching for Morgan’s treasure, instead of following his dream, he babysits a bunch of scientists. He’s becoming his dad. No, even worse, he’s becoming the laborers who worked for the professor. A sense of shame he hasn’t felt in a decade wells up inside.

“Yeah, that used to be me,” Miguel chokes out the admission, instantly wanting this smug asshole off his ship.

The older man glances around at the dingy paint, and the rusted corners of steel. “Tough times, eh?” he chuckles.

Miguel knows he’s hoping for a bribe to get dock rights for a few days, but Hansen took the last of the petty cash to buy black market explosives and ammo, planning for the worst-case scenario back in Panama. Without warning, Moses bounces into the lab holding up a small bag of weed, sporting a huge grin as if he’s already sampled it. Startled, Moses’ surprise quickly lights up into joy.

“Ya, Remi,” he shouts. Reaching out to embrace the shorter middle-aged official, Moses somehow makes the weed disappear in a flurry of long arms and dreadlocks.

“Moses, mi amigo, I haven’t seen you since Blue Oasis,” the official smiles wide at the scrawny Jamaican, referring to the bordello Moses captained offshore of the Cayman Islands.

Moses looks at Miguel with a big smile. “Nah, mon, I land a good ship. Good friends, no bullets, no-,” he stops mid-sentence to glance at the makeup-less scholar in her McCartney t-shirt, men’s Levi’s, and curly auburn hair pulled back into a pony tail. “No hookers, mon,” he finishes the sentence as the two men burst into laughter.

Darcy smiles politely while Miguel laughs best he can through the pang of truth. He’s a ‘used to be’, pimping out his ship to a bunch of geeks, a laughingstock for locals. Remi lets him slide on the bribe, handing him a two-day dock pass.

With a tap to Moses’ shoulder Remi nods at the exit. “Since you’ve already been to the Frog, come buy me a drink,” he suggests with a wink. Moses probably scored the weed at the Wet Frog.

Smiling, Moses looks over at Miguel. “Ya Skipper, I’ll fuel up da ship later.”

Without waiting for permission, Moses and Remi disappear down the steel hallway echoing laughter. A free dock pass helps wash the bitter taste of humiliation off his tongue, but not very much of it.

Exhaling a sigh of relief, Miguel tries to make the best of his humiliation. “That’s why I hired that man.”

“You mean his pot smoking with local officials, or his familiarity with popular brothels?” Darcy chortles back.

“Exactly,” Miguel smiles widely.

Turning to face Darcy, he drops the smirk. “Look, I meant to tell you before we left Panama, but Xavier spotted a Nacon scout on San Lorenzo. Now don’t worry, I’ve already talked to the team, and we can handle it. Once we’re back, we move to night dives with 24/7 armed watch.”

“What?” she exclaims. “Why the bloody hell would the cartel care about my empty ships?”

“Well, they don’t know the ships are empty,” Miguel explains. “They only know the Plunder Lust by reputation.” He chokes down the tarnish on that reputation, and omits the violent history with Golan, no need to frighten her further.

“For how long?” she retorts. “What happens when they discover your ploy?”

“We change tactics. Look, my guys can handle it,” he insists, preferring to avoid the details he hasn’t sorted out yet.

“This is a nightmare, we’re going to lose the bloody contract,” she rubs her palm over her forehead, pivoting away with a slight tremble of anger.

Miguel reaches out to take her by the shoulders, turning her around for an embrace. “Look, I know you’re worried about the deadline,” he concedes. “So we pull double teams. One of the other five ships has to be a Morgan ship. We’ll find the proof, it’ll be okay.”

Looking down, shaking her head into his chest. “It’s more than the deadline, Miguel, I’m worried about us. What happens to us if we fail,” she confesses.

He didn’t see that one coming. He’s not even sure what that means. Unsure what to do, he holds her tighter.

“Okay, so we don’t fail. I’m a lucky guy, we can make it work, both of us together,” he offers the only words he can think to say. Stiff, and unresponsive, something else must be on her mind.

“Miguel,” she mumbles into his chest. “We need to talk.”

“Yeah, sure, okay,” Miguel pulls back with a sudden sense of dread freezing his heart.

When a woman needs to talk a man needs to hide, it’s never good news. Never. Maybe she also sees him as a failure, or wants to fire him. Sure, they’ve had a few setbacks, but nothing they can’t work out. Maybe she’s still mad about the stupid video.

Before she can speak, Hansen barges into the lab. “Hey, Skipper, hi Dr. O’Sullivan,” he greets. “Skipper, Moses bugged out on me. We need your help to unload and store these crane parts, and sparklers.” Sparklers are the ship code word for ammunition.

“Yeah, sure, I’ll be there in a minute,” Miguel deflects, anxiously turning back to Darcy.

She lowers her eyes, turning away. “No,” she demurs. “Go ahead. You should go help Hansen. We can chin wag a bit later. It’s, hum, it’s not urgent. ”

With her back to him, she goes to work without another word. He stares a long moment, unsure what to say or do and no clue what’s behind all of her mood swings. In truth, he’s afraid to know. He only knows the premonition of a shit storm coming keeps getting stronger. Pushing it aside, he heads to the main deck. Ship needs come first.

Tulu Cantina, Port of Belize

June 19th 6:16 pm | 36 hours to Mayan chaa

Excited to get off the ship for a real meal, Darcy offered to treat the entire crew to dinner in the hope of uniting the ship and science teams together in morale building. Putting aside the numerous setbacks of Panama, she also postpones her conversation with Miguel for a more private moment, kicking herself for bringing it up earlier. They all need a distraction.

The boisterous pub bustles with a blend of tourists, merchant seamen, and locals hoping to swindle on the visitors. Most of the crew takes to the dance floor to blow off steam, with Mai and Hugo showing off a bit of swag for Dave and Juniper. Ben and Brenda secretly collaborate to out-shark a pair of local pool sharks, while Hansen keeps a protective eye on the game.

Near the bottom of a second pitcher of beer, Darcy sticks to water while sharing laughs with Jackson, Hansen, and Miguel like old times. More relaxed than she’s been in a while, she sets aside her irritable behavior as the product of stress and unbalanced pregnancy hormones.

“Okay gentlemen,” she raises her finger in a mock disciplinary expression. “As soon as we’re back in Panama, we switch to a new wreck site,” she demands, “and I don’t want to see a single wet arse’ until you find my proof.”

“Yes ma’am,” Hansen agrees, sipping his beer while bobbing his head to the music, watching the women on the dance floor.

“Sure,” Jackson smirks, “if you stop dropping cannons.”

Darcy glances to Miguel sipping his beer, lost in thought. “Captain, are we agreed?” She presses him for alignment in front of the crew.

Miguel slowly puts down his beer. “Yeah sure, new site, wet arse, need proof, no worries.”

After a beat, he turns to meet her gaze. “You know, I just can’t figure out where the hell I’ve seen those damn symbols.” He glances at Hansen. “You know, on the shell Captain America found.”

Darcy groans, more mock than mad. To be honest, she’s curious where he could have seen such a rare script. He grew up in the region, so it could have been anywhere.

“Go ahead Skipper,” she teases. “We’re at the pub, and you’re full of piss and beer, so talk it out of your system. Tell us about the bloody symbols.”

Miguel flashes a huge grin, kissing her on the cheek. “Thank you duchess for your permission to speak, but there’s nothing to tell,” he replies with a shrug. “That’s the problem; it’s tickling the crap out of my brain. I remember a skinny old dude holding a paper with those symbols in one hand, and a handful of raw gems and gold coins in the other. You know, I’ve always thought it was a dream. Now I wonder, but I can’t remember who, or where or when, and it’s driving me nuts. I’m too damn young to go senile,” he complains, when his phone buzzes in his pocket.

“Yo Xavi, what up,” he answers with a worried expression. “Got it, thanks,” he turns to the team. “Sorry folks, party’s over. We need to get back to the ship.”

“What? Why?” Darcy objects. “The crew are enjoying a wonderful time.”

“Tell you on the way,” Miguel deflects.

Not offering an explanation, he gets up motioning to Hansen who chugs his beer. Jackson follows the big man’s lead until his eyes bulge. Of all the bloody times for Peter Pan to get serious, she never would have guessed she’d see it occur inside a pub.

Plunder Lust, Port of Belize

June 19th 8:07 pm | 34 hours to Mayan chaa

Miguel would trust Xavier with his life, so he takes the heat from the whining crew. Xavier picked up signals about a snatch and grab operation going down tonight. Even though the signal did not mention a target name, Xavier urged Miguel to get his largely American crew back to the ship.

Miguel doesn’t mind, in fact, knowing there’s a non-Morgan ship back at San Lorenzo intrigues him. Maybe he can uncover a link to those damn symbols, or even better, a payday. After enduring the condescension of the harbormaster, Miguel wants both his reputation, and ship ownership back. Maybe then, he can get serious about Darcy. Face it Martinez, he scolds himself, no good woman wants to be with a ‘used to be’.

“Weather report?” he queries Moses as he enters the bridge.

Feet up on the console, leaning back in the captain’s chair, Moses smokes a roach, blowing it out the open bridge door.

Stefanie downgraded to a tropical storm ova Ecuador,” he reports. “Very wet,” he takes another hit.

Miguel doesn’t like wasting time in harbor. “Good to hear,” he claps his hands. “Have the ship ready. I want to shove off by daybreak.”

Half asleep, and quite stoned, Moses groans, blowing out his breath with a slight cough. “Ah, no skippa, it be a rough sea so soon after da storm. You have a hung over crew, mon. You have a lot of faces be in da head.”

Miguel smirks. “Yeah, you’re right. A little fresh ocean air will do the crew good. Purge them of the demon rum.”

“Ah, you be an evil man, skippa,” Moses complains, climbing out of his chair.

“Yeah, I know, but let’s keep it a secret,” Miguel rejoins with a grin.

“No worries, mon,” Moses grumbles. “Everybody knows,” he grumbles as he heads to start refueling, the task he put off to enjoy his drinking, and smoking binge.

With time to kill, Miguel heads to the mess hall for a mug of coffee. Greeted by the savory aroma of sizzling chicken strips over fresh onion, garlic, peppers, tomatoes, and cilantro, he breathes in deep through his nose to appreciate the wisdom of banning Ben. Mai and Hugo have teamed up in the galley, working together without a word between them. Mai grabs Hugo’s ass and points to a pan starting to sizzle. He attends to the pan with a smile.

Brenda and Ben huddle together in the corner to split their profits, laughing loudly over the humiliation of the local sharks losing to a woman. Hansen entertains Juniper and Jackson with a story of how he met Miguel and Darcy at a dive bar in Tampa. Miguel smiles at the fond memory.

Right on que, Darcy enters the mess hall, unaware of his gaze, she picks at the cheese, makes a cup of tea, and waits for the chicken to finish. Sometimes it only takes one glance at his amazing girlfriend to remember who anchors him. A beautiful woman who never uses her looks to manipulate. She seems almost unaware of her alluring magic until she dresses to slay, and Miguel feels slain. An incredible sense of humor, and a brilliant archaeologist, she never asks for permission to take charge, a lot like his mother Olivia. More than anything, Darcy believes in him and that gives him the courage to believe in himself. His grandfather once told him it was better to be lucky than either wealthy or handsome. Miguel has always been lucky, and he considers Darcy his undeniable proof, at least he did before he was a ‘used to be’.

His cell phone vibrates in his pocket, giving him a startle. Others stop their conversations to gaze at the unexpected late night call. He looks at the number. “LA area code,” he groans, showing it to Jackson.

Jackson and the caller are peers at UCLA, and while Jackson claims to play Switzerland in the decade long estrangement, his suspicions impulsively flare.

“Did you call him about the shell symbols?” he demands, unable to imagine any other reason for a call.

“What? Whoa. No dude, like, no,” Jackson responds, more from hurt than guilt.

“Maybe he’s sick,” Darcy suggests with a worried expression. Miguel hasn’t told her much about the professor, preferring to avoid the subject entirely.

“Come on man, it’s your dad, you gotta answer,” encourages Hansen, a devout Christian believer in the power of forgiveness.

Miguel groans. “Hello?”

“Hi Miguel, it’s your dad,” the awkward voice shouts above a noisy background.

His eyeballs roll up. “Okay,” he replies, unsure how to respond, still in shock as walls of distrust instantly re-erect into a maze of unresolved emotions.

“I’ve just landed in Belize, at the airport and I, I need to meet with you. It’s, huh, it’s urgent. A family matter of life and death,” the professor pleads.

Hearing the voice instantly pulls up decades of buried anger, blame, arguments and questions that have no answers. Miguel does not want to talk, much less meet.

“I’m fine, professor,” he mocks. “Thanks for asking.”

Miguel checks his watch, not interested in a family crisis. Besides, they aren’t even a real family, not anymore. Out of the corner of his eye, he spots Hansen turn to Jackson mouthing the word ‘professor’, but Jackson shakes his head in a ‘not now’ subtlety. Miguel ignores the exchange, growing more anxious, wishing he were already at sea, and out of cell range.

“I’m sorry for your troubles professor. Listen, we’re ready to shove off, so it’s not a good time,” Miguel lies, knowing they have until dawn. “Good luck with -”

“Son, please,” his dad interrupts. “This involves you too.” He offers a nontransparent tease.

“Why are you calling, professor?” he snaps.

“I can’t tell you over the phone,” the caller hesitates. “I need to see you tonight.”

“And how the hell did you even know I was in Belize?” Miguel asks, looking at Jackson, who shakes his head no, denying any role.

“Please son, your mother would want us to at least talk to each other,” his dad implores.

“Whoa, I can’t believe you went there,” he snaps.

His mother had always been the peacekeeper in the family. After her death, his father grew distant and obsessed with work. Miguel was little more than excess baggage on one hellish misadventure after another. He rebelled by putting as much distance between them as possible. When he dropped out of college, and used his mother’s inheritance to buy Plunder Lust, it created a wide rift between them. Sadly, even after all these years, invoking her memory works.

“Okay, professor you win, for her sake,” he concedes. “Meet me at the Wet Lizard Cantina outside the Port of Belize. You get 15 minutes.”

He hangs up the phone, storming out of the galley without a word of explanation to the crew staring at his back. The professor can attract trouble like a magnet. His gut tightens with apprehension. Miguel has no interest in the professor’s latest mystery, or the shit storm lurking behind it.

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