Chapter 4-Biloxi, 5 May 1922
Deer Island-5 May 1922
“Ben! Where are you?" Captain Taconi yelled at the silent pier. A small house set back about a hundred yards from the pier. The launch Cedar that Baker had visited Webster's in last night was tied up next to another small sailboat at the pier. In the yard were two overturned rowboats. Off to the side of the house that faced north to the city, were the terrapin holding cages that were Baker's latest money-maker.
The door opened and Ben emerged. "Hold on! I gotta get the boys going." Ben headed around the back of the cabin. A minute later Ben and his two sons appeared, Ben headed towards the pier, and the boys headed for the turtle pens.
Taconi patiently held onto the rope secured to the pier waiting for Baker to come aboard. "Hurry up Handyman; we don't have all day you know."
"Look here, Bigfoot, we ain't late yet. I just had a little too much of Webster's good cheer last night. Why are you so rushed?"
Taconi helped Baker aboard. "I just thought we might get a little recreation in before we meet Cuevas. I brought a couple of rods and some bait, and the little boat. I have my nephew James with me; I hope you don't mind being the extra set of hands we'll need to get there."
"Is that supposed to be another crack at me?" Baker looked warily at Taconi as he bent down to push off.
"No. Not really." Taconi smiled friendly.
"Good cause if it was I might have to step on your feet." Baker playfully punched Taconi's arm. "Let's get going."
Deer Island-5 May 1922
The two men were built alike. Both stood six feet tall and weighed about the same. Both were sea and sun hardened. Taconi had black hair and big feet; Baker had blond hair and large hands. Both loved the sea and would spend their whole life on it if they could. Taconi divorced his land-lubbing wife; Baker moved his family off the mainland and onto Deer Island.
The sloop started moving. The sails filled and the wind began to pick up. The sky was clear and the sun shined brightly. It was a beautiful day for sailing.
"It's a shame we don't have to go any further. Few things match sailing on a day like this." said Baker.
"My only regret is that we have to get off to meet Cuevas. If you want to come over here, I'll fill you in on the new developments Desporte Senior threw up."
Baker made his way forward after making sure James could handle the tiller. The eleven year old looked as if he had never sailed before, but assured Ben with wide eyes that he could hold their course.
Taconi sat on the bow of the boat with his bare feet hanging over the edge. Baker sat down beside him. "The old man suspects something. He's sending out warnings to all his captains. He doesn't want to take any chances, not the chance of getting caught, but of losing a single cent."
"When did he do this?" asked Baker.
"Yesterday. Ernest gave me a copy to give to Cuevas. He said Cuevas'd know what to do about it."
"Isn't that kind of risky?"
"Ernest doesn't think so. It's almost as if he picked Cuevas because he knows Cuevas'll know what to do." said Taconi.
"He might have. He learned a lot from his dad. Too bad for Theodore he's using it to ruin the old man." said Baker.
"Yeah, well if my old man had cared enough to stick his nose into anything I was doing, and had ruined my dreams like old Teddy did, I'd prob'ly do the same as Ernest."
Baker looked back. Deer Island blended into the mainland. The mainland was nothing more than a thin line of green on the horizon. James seemed to be concentrating on the compass. Turning back to Taconi, Baker asked, "Is that it fir business?"
"Until we get to Dog Key. The poles are beneath the sail bags, I'll get the bait."
Horn Island-5 May 1922
The Sea Glen was a bustle of activity, as usual. The six foot six Cuevas stood still while sailors scurried around him. "Martin! You're going with me, get three men for a lookout guard and get in the skiff."
The First Officer, John Martin yelled at a group of deckhands and headed for the skiff. Cuevas was already there. Cuevas’s black hair coupled with both his large size and full complement of facial hair had most of his crew calling him Blackbeard behind his back. To a man, they jumped when he spoke. Even Martin jumped at his commands, even though he knew that most of Cuevas' gruffness was just for show.
Taconi's sloop was already anchored off shore, and the two men were resting beneath the shade of a group of pine trees. "Martin, keep two men in sight of the boat, you take the other into those trees, but don't lose sight of the cutoff men. You should have a good view of the Sound. Between your men and the deck lookouts, we should be safe enough to not have to worry about getting caught on shore. On my signal, move one cutoff man to your position and join me. Unless someone sees the law, I give you the verbal order to leave the island."
"Aye, sir." The three men jumped in the skiff as it began to be lowered by other crewmen. They readied the oars and the boat began moving as it hit the water.
Baker and Taconi walked to the beach, as the skiff coasted the last few feet. As soon as it was emptied and beached, the four men left the three captains alone on the shore.
"Raymond, this is Ben Baker, Baker this is Raymond Cuevas," Taconi introduced the men. "It's been a while, Blackbeard, how's the sailing been?"
"You know I throw men off my ship under sail for calling me that, Bigfoot?" Cuevas asked with a grin.
"Ask Ben why he's all wet, I do the same." Taconi said with a chuckle. "So what gives?" Cuevas asked. "First off, this," Taconi handed Cuevas the letter from Desporte.
To: TransGulf Captains Re: Security
It has come to my attention that some cargoes have returned to their embarkation points. Arrangements for cargo distribution are occasionally canceled or re-scheduled. If a Captain is unable to meet the new time, or if no new time is arranged, the stock then becomes part of the regular extra cargo, and it is the responsibility of each Captain to distribute it. Only payments are to be brought back to Jamaica, not cargo. Fines and penalties will result if this policy is not complied with.
A bigger problem reported by some ships in the Bahamas as well as in Jamaica, luckily though none of TransGulf's, is that of piracy. The Captain of each vessel is given the responsibility of providing his own security. The safety of our products is in their hands. Although each Captain is responsible for his own both providing his own security and enforcing it, certain general measures should be taken to ensure safety from pirates:
1 Only allow a few men from each purchasing ship aboard at a time, or even not allow any purchasers on board.
2 Keeping the crew spread out during cargo transfers keeps them from being easily rounded up.
3 Arming the crew is also helpful. Rifles or shotguns can be hidden in furled sails so as not to warn potential pirates.
Neither loss of cargo nor non-distribution of cargo is to be tolerated. Each Captain will be held personally responsible for every piece of cargo. Not only will losses result in fines paid for by each Captain, but also henceforth dividends shall be paid based on compliance with these policies.
As he finished reading, Cuevas noticed that no one had signed the letter. He then looked at Taconi and asked, "So what seems to be the problem?"
"Sometimes your nonchalance just gets in the way, Raymond. The problem is, we will be depending on you not to do these things." Taconi said.
Cuevas looked around. He could see the cutoff men. No signals from them, no problem. "How about this? I'm getting off beforehand anyway, send a boat out earlier. I'll have the crew repulse them. I'll congratulate them and give them the night off to enjoy themselves and get drunk, and then I tell my First Officer I'm going in to tell the old man his plans worked. After the crew goes three sheets to the wind, you send in the real team or even the same one if you'd like.
"As far as loading goes, hostages always fear for their lives and do as they are ordered to at gunpoint. Why not have my men load your boats. They'll be drunker than Cooter Brown, and scared for their lives. They'll do anything. When I come ashore.” Cuevas said as he motioned for Martin.
"I'll pass that on to Ernest.” said Taconi. “He still needs to get the final details from you. Can he meet you in Havana?”
"Tell him there will be a message for him." Cuevas watched as Martin came closer. "If everything works according to my plans, you'd better get ready for one hell of a big haul. And you'd better not leave a drop behind."
Martin came running up, "Yes Captain?"
"Martin, this is Captain Taconi and Captain Baker. Baker, Taconi, my First Officer, John Martin. These men just brought out another one of those damn policy letters. I'll let you read it back on deck, in the meantime, signal the men."
"We'll be in touch, Captain." Taconi said as he turned to go towards his boat. Cuevas mumbled a reply and headed for his skiff, engulfed in thought.