CHAPTER 1—THE DAREDEVIL
Dad was driving. He, Mom, and I were on our way to the coast.
“Hey, listen to this,” said Mom, reading from the newspaper:
A man has been arrested for stealing three endangered iguanas from Mexico and trying to smuggle them into the United States. Dwayne Hickey, 33, hid the iguanas in a secret compartment in his fake leg. Customs agents held him when they noticed him acting strangely….
“Of course he was acting strangely,” chuckled Dad. “You would, too, if you had iguanas crawling around in your leg!”
“No kidding,” laughed Mom. “What if they were nibbling on his stump?”
“Ouch!” said Dad, laughing back. I heard Mom pull a tissue from the box. She must have laughed so hard she was crying.
“Jacey?” she called. Her cotton hoodie rustled as she twisted backwards in her seat to look at me. “Don’t you think this is funny?”
I was curled up in the third seat of the Suburban, eyes closed. Mom could see that I was wearing headphones, but she couldn’t see that I’d turned off my iPod’s volume. I didn’t answer.
She waited a little longer for me to reply then said, “Oh, well, I guess she’s resting. She sure seems to have a lot on her mind for someone starting summer vacation.”
She was right about that. Here I was on my way to see my two oldest island friends and only Mai seemed to care. She had already sent me three text messages this morning. “2G2BT – UR ALMOS HERE – BCNU!” was the last one. She was excited I was coming. But I wasn’t sure about Lindsay. I just tried to call her and she didn’t pick up – again. I’d try her again later when we got to our condo at Port Royale, I guess.
I felt the road beneath us go from smooth to bumpy. We were on the flat and straight Redfish Bay Bridge – fifteen miles from our Port Royale condo on Pelican Island. I rolled down my window. A blast of hot wind whipped my hair in circles around my head. The sea air smelled of fish, rotten eggs, and old summers with Lindsay and Mai. It was sweet perfume. It acted on me like a vitamin. I yanked off the headphones and stuck my head out. Now my world was only blue sky, white clouds, and green water.
In the city, buildings block out the sky. You forget about the sky. But not on the coast. Here the sky is everywhere. You can’t help but look at it.
The sky was blue today, but different levels were different blues. Where the sky met the water, the blue was faded-out and soft. I imagined tall waves lapping at the bottom of the blue sky, bleaching out its color. The further up the sky rose away from the water, the deeper the blue became. White puffs of cloud scooted across the blue sky, pushed inland by a breeze.
The bay down below was green and wide and calm. At that moment, an old fishing boat chugged across the glassy water, rippling a perfect V with its bow. A few seagulls hovered above it, crying. A person standing on deck was tossing food into the air. The gulls swooped down and caught it in their beaks.
Down below the bridge, a man wade fishing. His pants were tucked into tall black rubber boots. I pictured him pulling on those boots. Then, for some crazy reason, I pictured that iguana smuggler Mom read about pulling on an artificial leg and stuffing it full of iguanas. That would have made it an illegal leg of lizard, right?
I’d made a joke. I began to laugh. That smuggler story really was funny. I’d been terribly rude to Mom and Dad and we were on the way to the beach to have fun. I had to make it up to them. I stuck my head back in the car. “Dad?” I called.
I loved it when he called me that. “Why did that man smuggle those iguanas?”
“Greed, Jacey. Iguanas are exotic pets. There are guys out there who will smuggle anything for a buck.”
“It says here he expected to get 30,000 bucks,” added Mom, glancing back at me.
“Instead he’ll get five years,” said Dad, keeping both eyes on the road. “Neon-green iguanas are protected by an international treaty.”
I remembered the iguana I had in sixth-grade. Actually it belonged to my teacher. She kept it in our classroom. Then one day the iguana struck Shirley Appleby with its tail. Shirley told her mom. Her mom called the principal. The next day the iguana was gone.
I thought back to sixth grade. I missed sixth grade, even if I was goofy looking. Things were simpler then. My city friends were still all together, and no one was messed up….
Dad slammed on the brakes – which made my pencil skate across my drawing. I peered through the front windshield. A long line of cars, trucks, and motorcycles stretched out ahead of us, waiting for the Pelican Island ferry. Some pulled boats and jet skis while others had surfboards on top. Traffic had slowed to a crawl.
“Anyone want a gummy bear?” asked Dad, handing the bag back over his shoulder.
“Sure, thanks,” I replied, taking the bag from his hand. It was going to be a long wait.
Dad had plugged in a CD of the Gipsy Kings. He kept the beat by drumming his fingers on the rim of the steering wheel. He kept the volume down low for Mom. She doesn’t like to listen to music in the car. At that moment, though, she hadn’t even noticed that music was playing. She was lost in her world of puzzles. She was huddled over the folded comics page, her half-glasses perched on her nose, her pencil poised in the air. She was totally absorbed in solving the Jumble.
Ten minutes later, I had finished my rough pencil sketch of the iguana on my shoulder. We were still idling in traffic. The traffic was moving in spurts, but we were still too far back in the line to spy the ferry landing. Dad had turned off the air conditioning to save gas, so we had to roll the windows down. It was late morning and miserably hot. Steamy heat from the tarry black highway asphalt radiated up and into our car. The air smelled all fuelly from so much carbon monoxide spewing from the tailpipes of the idling cars. I couldn’t decide if I would have been cooler if I had worn jeans rather than shorts. My bare, sweaty legs stuck to the leather seats. My thighs made rude, ripping sounds whenever I moved around.
I was getting thirsty and desperately needed a pit stop. I tried not to think about how uncomfortable I was becoming by thinking about my drawing. If it was going to look any good, it needed color. I thrust my hand deep into my backpack and dug around for my box of colored pencils. It was then that I first heard the roar of the motorcycle.
I stopped searching for the pencils and stuck my head out the car window. The engine noise came from behind our car. A long line of traffic snaked behind us. As I watched, a ray of sunlight struck something metal in the traffic, blinding me in its glare. The glare had bounced off a very big, black, and shiny motorcycle. That’s where the noise was coming from. The motorcycle was weaving in and out of traffic, roaring its terrible roar like bursts of gunfire, and cutting in line so the driver could be first on the ferry. How rude!
“What a jerk!” I muttered. I didn’t want Mom to hear. She doesn’t like me to label people, no matter how bad they are. But I so hate cheaters.
“It’s a Harley,” said Dad. I turned around. To my surprise, he had been watching me in the rear view mirror.
“That motorcycle back there – the one you’re looking at – it’s a Harley-Davidson. Even I can hear it – and above the Gipsy Kings, too.”
Our conversation was cut short by a police siren. I stuck my head out the window and looked back. A motorcycle cop was zipping up the highway behind us, flashing its red lights, and pulling over the Harley. The cop got down off his bike, walked over to the Harley rider, and wrote him a ticket.
I couldn’t help but smile. What a perfect ending. I just hated that Mom had missed all the action. After all, she’s the one who always says, “Cheaters never prosper.”
A half hour later, we were next to board the ferry. It glided across the channel toward us, loaded with cars from the opposite shore. Up in the control tower, the captain had a hard time steering a straight course. The wind kept pushing the ferry down channel.
Turn Off Engines. Set Parking Brake. No Smoking.
Dad set the parking brake. “Come on, Jacey,” shouted Mom, grabbing her binoculars and springing from the car. She wanted to watch the crossing from the ferry railing.
“Coming!” I replied, unbuckling my seat belt. I fished under my seat for my flip-flops. Then I jumped out of the car. My iPod went flying out ahead of me, sliding under the car next to us.I had forgotten it was in my lap.
I crawled under the car and got it. Although it was still in one piece, it had a tiny scratch on the front. Miraculously, though, it still worked. I stuck it in my pocket and joined the others at the railing.
Out in the choppy water, shrimpers, barges, and oil tankers streamed to and from the Gulf of Mexico. On the opposite shore, the masts of sailboats at the marina stood tall against the blue sky. Mai’s family’s restaurant is there. Beyond town, the Pelican Point Lighthouse could be seen, its black and white stripes spiraling up and around the tower, topped by a red cap.
Finally, the last car rolled onto the ferry and the deckhand lifted and locked the tailgate. The captain put the boat in gear. We began to pull away from shore. Then we heard a motorcycle approaching up on land. We looked up in time to see the flagman jumping out of its way. A big, black motorcycle thundered past, heading straight for the ferry. It was the Harley!
With a burst of speed, the biker vaulted over the water, soaring into mid-air, before hitting the ferry deck on his back wheel. The bike bounced once before coming to a halt beside our Suburban. The biker cut his engine and shoved down the kickstand with the heel of his boot.
A hush fell over the crowd. “Someone ought to arrest that guy,” muttered Dad. But no one did. The ferry just kept chugging across the channel. It had a tight schedule to keep.
The biker hid behind dark sunglasses. He had a bandanna tied around his forehead. His nose was flat and crooked like it had been punched. He had a skinny mustache and a pierced chin. Necklaces strung with wooden beads, chains, and crosses hung on his bony chest. He wore a sleeveless leather vest. His arms were tattooed with naked girls and marijuana leaves.
Mom elbowed me. “Jacey, look!” she said, handing me her binoculars, and pointing at the water. Parents were lifting up their kids to see over the railing. Dolphins were leading us across the channel. They swam, dove, and leapt into the air. Dad snapped pictures. It was so cool.
My imagination went wild. I was Island Girl. I held the reins that commanded my dolphins to pull me to my island kingdom….
My fantasy went “Poof!” when I heard a man shout, “Excuse me!” I spun around. It was the deckhand doing the shouting. He was arguing with the biker. The biker had lit a cigarette. The deckhand pointed at the NO SMOKING sign. “Can’t you read?” he asked.
“No comprendo,” replied the biker. A long, brown, and skinny cigarette with a gold stripe around the filter dangled from his lips.
Everyone instantly forgot about the dolphins. All eyes were glued to the biker.
“Oh, my gosh!” shrieked a woman to Mom’s left. “He’s going to blow us all up.”
“She’s right, you know,” Mom whispered. “There’s enough gasoline aboard to blow us all to Kingdom Come.”
The biker puffed away. The deckhand stepped closer. “Put that cigarette out, I tell you!”
“¿Mánde?” asked the biker, taking a deep drag of his cigarette. Then he blew a stream of smoke right in the deckhand’s face. The deckhand’s face went beet red.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched Dad creep over to the control tower. He grabbed hold of the fire extinguisher. He was silently removing it from its rack when, suddenly, the ferry lurched forward. The jolt felt like an explosion. I had to grab the railing to keep from falling.
The ferry had bumped into some pilings. We were at the Pelican Island Landing. We gratefully hopped in our car and started the engine. The deckhand let out an exasperated sigh. He couldn’t give any more time to the biker problem. He had to get to his post.
The biker smiled then flicked his cigarette into the foamy green water. A brown pelican perched on a wood piling watched it float by. I was worried he might eat it.
The biker cut in front of us, his engine idling. “Hear that engine?” asked Dad, looking back at me in his rear view mirror.
“Yes,” I said. The idle had a choppy rumble. “It sounds as if it doesn’t have a muffler.”
“It doesn’t. The exhaust pipes are attached straight to the engine. potato-potato-potato. Only a Harley Davidson idle sounds like that.”
Waiting to exit, we were forced to stare at the patch on the back of the biker’s vest. It showed the skeleton of a woman wearing a hooded robe. She clutched a long, sharp, curving blade. She was so creepy looking, she gave me the chills. I had to look away. I looked instead at the bike’s license plate – 6CB 522. The last three numbers are the same as my birthday, May 22.
Finally, the deckhand lowered the tailgate. The biker revved his engine and sped off first, passing the deckhand so closely that he clipped him, knocking him down. The biker kept on going until he was swallowed up by the town and gone from my sight. But somehow I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would see him again.
Click here to read the next chapter, Chapter 2: In Pirate’s Cove.