Careful what you wish for…
Sarah Schilling’s twelve year-old brother is wicked smart. But this? Pure genius. Brian snagged an invitation to spend the summer with their favorite aunt and uncle on St. Croix. Uncle Jack tells them, “There will probably be some swimming, some diving. We like to run. There’s a range, so maybe you’ll learn to shoot. Cooking. Your Aunt Helen is a classically trained chef. You knew that, right? There’s the Mallard seaplane, so maybe you’ll learn something about flying. T
hat sort of thing.”
That sort of thing sounds like too much work for Sarah Schilling’s summer on the beach. Until Brian’s scuba regulator mysteriously fails sixty feet underwater. Her training snaps into laser focus. During Brian’s rescue they unearth the 250 year-old secret of Black Bart—the pirate and his ghost. The discovery launches them into a hurricane of peril at the hands of modern-day pirates. The Schilling family will not survive unless Brian and Sarah discover the most powerful weapon that is within themselves.A Pirate’s Time Served is a YA thriller of a ghost story. It shows how two teens can dig deeper than they thought possible, discovering what it means to lead, to follow, and to never ever give up—especially on family.
A Pirate’s Time Served is my third novel. I wrote it while attending Stanford’s Writers School, Continuing Education. My second novel, God’s Banker, reached number eight on Amazon’s suspense list. I have also written eleven business books published by Simon & Schuster, Putnam, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, and Adams.
“Nice job, Jack,” says Helen as she pulls back the fluffy white summer comforter on her side of their bed. Then she pulls Jack’s T-shirt—the one with US Navy stenciled in gold on the front—over her head, sets it on the bed-side table and climbs in beside her husband. She sinks into bed with a comfortable sigh after a long day.
“What do you mean?”
Helen turns on her side, facing her husband, “I mean how you concocted your legend of Black Bart the pirate.” She chuckles as she squirms in up against Jack. “Planting that antique metal box with an animal skin treasure map inside. Then bringing Bill in for credibility. Priceless.”
“Bill is an expert on Caribbean pirates,” says Jack.
“That’s what is so perfect about casting him. What I don’t understand is how you managed to get Brian’s air turned off this afternoon. Sara’s in on it, right?”
Out the open window the full moon cast a silvery shine like a ribbon-straight road on the water as it leads straight into Bart’s Cove. “Hon, the legend of Black Bart is a historical fact. Neither Bill nor I are cast members and nobody planted the metal box that Brian and Sarah found this afternoon.”
Helen lies there and says, “I checked on the kids. Right now Brian and Sarah are both sitting at the kitchen table mapping out how they’re going to get Bart’s treasure. Can you imagine?” But she is talking to an empty bed. Jack has already left for the kitchen.
“What might you be havin’ in mind there, laddy?” asks Jack in his guttural pirate’s voice.
I lay down my pencil. “Well, I’m thinking, what does Bart want?”
“He wants to kill us,” says Jack, “he’s tried twice already.”
“If he wanted us dead he’d have done it by now,” says Sarah. “Underwater is a dangerous place. He could have done it any number of ways.” “Then what?” asks Jack.
We’re sitting under the soft light of the lamp hanging over the kitchen table. Sounds of splashes from the fish jumping in the lagoon come through the open window. A warm breeze blows in off the ocean. I start, “Bart is just scaring us. He really wants us to just leave him alone. But now we have something that belongs to him—”
“The metal box with his treasure map,” says Jack.
“Exactly,” I reply. “And he wants it back. So let’s give it to him.”
Uncle Jack raises an eyebrow. “Don’t you want to find his treasure?”
“Brian thinks we can get Bart to help us find it if we ask politely—”
“The map may not be accurate,” I say. “Back then pirates were not map makers.”
“Cartographers,” corrects Jack.
“Right. Look here, Bart’s map only shows three islands out there and he didn’t name them.”
“He buried his treasure on three islands to spread his risk,” says Jack.
Sara says, “Yes, but there are other islands in this part of the Caribbean. We checked the naval charts. There’s St. Thomas and St. John, of course. Then there are Saba, Anguilla, St. Martin, St. Barts, St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, Martinique, St.
“Got it,” says Jack. He scans the map again. “Bart’s three islands all could be about the same distance from our cove as any of the closer islands. We don’t know.”
“Right,” I say. “But we three know someone who does.”
Uncle Jack nods his head, “Black Bart. So we need him to interpret his own map?”
“Listen to my theory,” I say. “Bart made this map for himself in case he forgot. He probably figured he would never forget which islands he used, so he didn’t label them on the map. Once we find the correct islands, his notes of direction and distance from shore look pretty good. It’s just finding the right islands that’s the problem.”
“So how are you two going to enlist the late Bartholomew Roberts’ help?
What’s in it for him?”
“Brian and I thought we’d just ask him.”
“Sarah is right,” I agree. “What’s in it for him is a chance to spend his treasure.”
Uncle Jack lays his hands on the table, “He’s a ghost. He can’t spend his treasure.”
“We’ll do it for him,” reasons Sarah. “We’ll take his share and spend it on something really good. He can’t use a fancy car or a boat or any earthly possession really. But maybe we’ll use his share to build a school or a hospital if we find enough of his loot. It’ll give him a new place to hang out.”
My Uncle Jack sits there staring at the map, then at both Sarah and me. For a long time no one speaks. The two dogs, Carrie and Dove, suddenly jump up from their dog beds. The sharp knock on the door makes all three of us jump. Then the back door creaks open. Both dogs stand there wagging their tails in greeting.
“I saw your light from across the cove,” says Bill Lama. “I was too agitated to sleep. Figured you were too. So I thought I’d come over. What’s up?”
I run through my idea of enlisting Bart’s help to find his treasure and what we might do with it once we find it.
Bill sits there listening. When we finish he asks, “How do you intend to communicate with Bart?”
“Ah, we haven’t got that far.” Then I ask, “How do you talk to a pirate ghost?”
The air from my tank hisses into the air hose. I glance down at my dive watch—midnight. The full moon lights up the dock and the lagoon before us in a silvery glimmer. Still, it’s creepy. Uncle Jack turns on the underwater lights. Suddenly I can see the bottom stretch out into the lagoon. There is Merryweather, sitting upright and bathed in a white glow. All of her corals look like brightly colored overgrown decorations—orange, purple, red, blue. What must she look like from the air, all lit up at night? We are four divers doing a night dive to talk with a ghost.
Bill already has his tank and fins on. He’s sitting there on the edge of the dock, fins hanging over the side into the water with his mask resting on his forehead. “Here’s what we’re out to accomplish,” he says. “First, as young Brian said, we’re returning Bart’s metal box with his treasure map back to where he found it. Since Brian took it, he’s the one returning it.”
“Then, we’re going to try communicating with Bart’s ghost. It may not work.
Probably won’t. But we’re going to give it a try.
“I need you to believe, really believe that Bart’s ghost exists. Our intentions are pure—we’re returning something we should not have taken in the first place. Keep thinking that way. There must be kindness in your heart. We are here on a mission to help Bart’s ghost. Notice any cold or warm places when we’re down there on Merryweather. Let me know if you get tingles or prickles on the back of your neck. If you get scared or apprehensive, let me know that too. Above all, listen. It’ll be noisy down there with your bubbles and the fish making their sounds. But listen for anything out of the ordinary.” “Like what?” Sarah asks.
Bill shrugs his shoulders. “Don’t know. I’ve never talked to a ghost before. If
Bart is down there, he just may want to chat. Ready?”
Uncle Jack, Sarah and I all nod our heads. I reach behind Sarah’s tank and make sure her air is on. She does the same for me. I check my pressure gauge to be sure my tank is full to the max of 3,000 pounds (pounds per square inch of air pressure). All three of us lean over the dock and just fall into the warm water, leaving Carrie and Dove laying on the dock watching us leave.
A night dive is much different than in the day. First off, some of the fish are just hanging there in the water, asleep. Some—like the king crabs—are out walking around looking for something to eat. Bill takes the lead. I’ve made this trip enough times that I know some of the landmarks down here. Our swim takes just a few minutes. Soon Merryweather looms into view. She’s lit up from bow to stern with the underwater lights Uncle Jack installed. The old lady is a riot of color.
Merryweather’s rudder glows, buried in the sandy seabed beneath the glare of Uncle Jack’s underwater lights. It towers upward, rising up out of the light and into the darkness overhead. The only sounds are popping noises the fish make and the rush of air from our tanks followed by the explosion of bubbles as we exhale. Uncle Jack, Bill, Sarah and I form a circle, kneeling in the soft sand near Merryweather’s rudder where I found the box with the map. Sarah grabs Bill’s hand on one side and mine on the other as if we’re at a séance.
Imagine, midnight, sixty feet underwater. We’ve been waiting down here for fifty minutes already to maybe see the ghost of Black Bart, the pirate. My tank was full when I submerged—3,000 pounds of pressure. Now my air gauge shows 550 pounds of pressure—near where I should think about surfacing.
Then the current shoves me. Goose bumps rise on my arms and the hair on the back of my neck stands up. All of us look at one another.
Bill is the famous expert on the supernatural. He uses a grease pencil to write on the waterproof white board—about the size of an iPad—he brought down here for just this purpose:
Then, “Welcome Capt. Roberts”
My air gauge now shows just 350 pounds of pressure left in my tank. Past time to surface. A few big breaths would exhaust my tank. If that happens I’ll run out of air down here.
Another minute passes. I look again at my air gauge—well in the red, just 219 pounds now. My heart beats faster; breathing accelerates. Still, Bill told us not to move. And I’m not leaving without returning Black Bart’s box and treasure map. He’s plenty pissed off that I took it. The next visit he might actually kill someone rather than just scare us. I try taking slow, shallow breaths. Impossible. I want a huge gulp of air. I can see Uncle Jack’s air gauge beside me. He has over 1,000 pounds of pressure left. Plenty for us both. He’s a more experienced diver who doesn’t over breathe getting excited. Unlike me.
Then it happens. At first it’s just letters in the sandy bottom. If it really is Black Bart, he’s staying invisible for now. Then entire words appear in the sand:
“Why ye be botherin’ me?”
Bill writes on his white board: “Returning box & map”
Bart’s earlier words suddenly sink into the sand. They’re replaced with:
“I be upset. The map be mine. The box too. Why’d ye take them?”
Bill writes furiously: “Didn’t know”
“Ye shouldn’t take what don’t belong to ye.”
“Sorry” Then Bill waits for the response to appear again in the sand.
If I didn’t see this with my own two eyes I wouldn’t have believed it. I set the old, dented metal box containing the treasure map in the center of our circle. The sandy bottom opens up and immediately swallows it without a trace. In its place on the sandy bottom is:
“No harm done, I guess. Hearty thanks for returnin’ me property.”
Little dots explode before my eyes from the shallow breaths. I urgently tap Uncle Jack’s leg and hold up my air gauge. I don’t want to spook the spook. Jack nods, then reaches into the pocket of his buoyancy compensator and hands me his spare safety regulator. Problem solved. I take my first deep breath in minutes and immediately feel better. I flash a quick OK sign to Jack. He nods. We keep kneeling there in the sand, unmoving. I watch Bill write again on his white board:
“We want to help you”
“And how might ye go about doin’ that?” writes Bart in the sand.
“Spend your treasure wisely”
“Aye. That be mighty considerate. Talk more. Meet up with ye on the dock.” Bart’s words appear in the sand, then slowly fade away. He’s gone.
Black Bart’s ghost is amphibian? Of course he is. He’s a ghost. What’s this 250 year-old pirate ghost look like? Seems we’re about to find out.
When we surface Jack whispers in my ear, “Good job on the air management, Brian. We were down a long time. That’s why you ran low. Don’t mention your little air problem to Helen. She’ll gut both of us with the fish boning knife. We good?” Then Uncle Jack raises his hand up out of the water for me to shake, sealing our secret pact.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
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Chris Malburg is a widely published author, with work spread over 11 popular business books–including How to Fire Your Boss (Berkley) and Surviving the Bond Bear Market (Wiley, March 2011). In his other life, Chris is a CPA/MBA, a former investment banker and now the CEO of Writers Resource Group, Inc., providers of professional financial literary content to corporations (www.WritersResourceGroup.com). That’s the professional side of Chris’ career. The fun side began when UCLA’s Writers’ school taught him to transition from biz-speak to fiction. GOD’S BANKER and the first installment in the Enforcement Division series, DEADLY ACCELERATION, both combine Chris’ natural talent for story telling with his professional command of the high-stakes investment world and what money and power do to some people.
GOD’S BANKER came to fruition from Chris’ hospital bed while recuperating from an athletic injury. As a long-time endurance athlete, Chris is no stranger to the surgeon’scalpal. Over 130,000 words later, GOD’S BANKERwas complete. “It just poured out me,” says the author. “I carried my note pad to physical therapy; made plot notes during the hours in the gym doing rehab; even while on my long bicycle rides through the hills overlooking the Pacific Ocean where we live. Slowly endurance returned and with it, GOD’S BANKER.”
Chris Malburg lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Marilyn. Their hobby is raising service dogs for Guide Dogs for the Blind. As of this writing, they have raised eight Labrador retrievers and have had three make the cut for placement with their disabled partners.
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