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As schooner-sized white clouds sailed high across the turquoise South Florida sky, Kate McGuire tugged at her green gardening gloves. Despite what the label proclaimed, one size definitely did not fit all.
“So what happens if I ditch the gloves?” she asked, pausing, as her friend rhythmically scooped wet sand.
“Nothing super horrible,” replied Maxi Más-Buchanan, sinking her shovel into the soft ground with a thunk. “Just keep ’em away from Mr. Oliver. Thanks to him, my last three pairs are buried all over Coral Cay. One at a time. The least that puppy could do is bury them in pairs. That way, if anyone ever finds them, they can maybe use them.”
Kate had to admit, the two of them had accomplished a lot in one afternoon. Two of the three raised beds were prepped and ready to go. One more and they could call it a day.
Oliver, in his wisdom, already had. Passed out under a shady tree, she could hear his soft snuffling sounds above the birdcalls on the breeze.
Maxi looked over her shoulder and grinned. “Some work ethic,” the florist said. “Our best digger has up and quit. On the bright side, you get a promotion.”
“Aye aye, captain,” Kate said, giving a mock salute. “So what’s going into this one?”
“For a couple of months, I’m gonna keep adding in compost and good stuff and build up the soil. Then, when it gets a little cooler, I can start planting. Oh, it’s gonna be tasty. I’m putting in those juicy, old-fashioned tomatoes and little baby lettuces. And we’re gonna surround the whole thing with hot peppers. Muy picante. ’Cause they keep the bugs away. That one over there,” she said pointing at a completed bed, “will be herbs. Basil, dill, oregano, and chives to start. And peppermint—oooh, it’ll smell so good. And that other one’s gonna be filled with edible flowers. Not too shabby, huh? If these do well, I’ll sell what I grow. Like a side business. Maxi’s Kitchen Garden. All organic. I’ve talked to a couple of your chef buddies at the resorts, and they’re super excited.”
“I can see why,” Kate said, tucking a stray lock of caramel-colored hair under her navy ball cap. “An organic, small-batch garden? Nobody’s doing anything like that anywhere near Coral Cay. You’ll clean up.”
“But first, we dig up the yard and get super dirty. Poor Oliver’s going to need another bath,” she said, brushing a smudge of wet sand off her cheek. “Me too, for that matter.”
“How about we take a cue from Oliver and stop for a rest?” Kate suggested. “I’ve got a pitcher of lemonade in the fridge at the Cookie House.”
“Right now, I’d settle for cold water out of the sink. Or the hose.”
Fifteen minutes later, with frosty glasses in their hands, Kate and Maxi relaxed in lawn chairs, surveying their handiwork.
As they chatted, Oliver scrambled back to the area they’d excavated for the last raised bed.
“OK, so we’ve removed two-and-a-half feet of sandy topsoil. Now what?” Kate asked, eyeing the neat rectangular trench on the left side of the yard.
“Just like last time. We’ll fill it up with my super-secret planting soil mix. Then we drag out the frame for the raised bed, tack it down, and fill that up to the top with more planting mix. Then we’re done.”
Oliver circled the pit several times, then he hopped in and scratched the soil with his front paws, yelping. He put his head down, digging furiously. All they could see was sand flying past his fuzzy oatmeal-colored rump.
“What’s he doing?” Kate asked.
“Probably digging up one of the gloves he buried. Or one of his other treasures. Oliver’s got stuff buried all over town,” Maxi said with a rueful smile.
They watched as the poodle-mix pup paddled furiously with his front paws for several minutes. Then he sat back on his haunches and howled.
Maxi sat forward, alarmed. “He’s never done that before,” she said, setting her glass on the ground.
“Maybe the little guy hurt himself,” Kate said, as they both hurried over to the half-grown pup.
As they neared, Oliver began digging again, his oversized paws frantically clawing the sand.
“Oliver? Come here, baby,” Kate called softly. “Come up here.”
When he jumped out of the pit and trotted over, Kate stroked his soft curly coat and scratched him lovingly behind one ear. “Now, let me see those paws of yours,” she said, gently examining each one in turn. “Nope, you’re fine. Everything looks good,” she called over her shoulder to Maxi.
“I don’t think so,” Maxi said softly.
“What do you mean?” Kate said, turning to see her friend’s face pale. Maxi silently pointed down to the hole where Oliver had just been digging.
And that’s when Kate spotted it. In the sandy soil. Scraps of an ancient leather boot. Long and brackish brown. In tatters. Kate could barely make out what had probably been a wide cuff at the top. And a big silver buckle, blackened with age, at the bottom. It reminded Kate of something out of Treasure Island. Or the Discovery Channel. Exposed at the top of the boot, yellowed with time, was a barely visible swath of bone.
“What? Who?” Kate gasped.
Maxi took a giant step back and crossed herself. “Dios mio,” she whispered. “It’s him. It’s really him. It has to be.”
“Who? Who is it?”
“Gentleman George Bly. The pirate king. I thought it was just a story,” she said in a hushed voice, shaking her head. “Something to tell mi niños at bedtime. But it’s real.”
Kate stood and took a step closer to her friend. Oliver followed suit. The three of them stared down into the pit.
“I admit that boot looks old,” Kate said. “But what makes you think it’s him?”
“It’s all part of the legend,” Maxi said quietly. “Gentleman George, he pretty much founded Coral Cay. He and his men. They’re the reason we have our Pirate Festival every year. Well, them and to celebrate the end of tourist season. His crew used to raid the Spanish treasure ships sailing to and from Florida and the Caribbean. This island was their home base. He was smart, and he was sneaky. He bested the Spanish king every single time and swiped their loot. But he had a code. A sense of honor. And he was only stealing what had already been stolen in the first place. But one time—the last time—they were attacked by a galleon. A big war ship. He was wounded, his ship was nearly sunk. But Gentleman George? He still had a few tricks up his sleeve. And he got his ship and crew to safety. Back to Coral Cay.”
“What happened after that?” Kate asked, never taking her eyes off the boot buckle.
“No one really knows,” Maxi said. “Local legend has it once he and his men reached the harbor, they burned the ship to cover their tracks. And shortly after that, he died. Supposedly, his men laid him out in his very best clothes and even shined up the silver buckles on his boots. And, as a gesture of respect and gratitude, they buried him in a secret spot on the island with his share of the treasure—a fortune in gold and jewels. And the site has never been found.”
“And you think…” Kate started.
“I think our friend Oliver has discovered the last resting place of Gentleman George Bly, pirate king of Coral Cay.”
A few hours later, the backyard of Flowers Maximus was alive with people. A half dozen students and grad students paraded back and forth toting shovels, trowels, tarps, and plastic toolboxes like ants carrying off crumbs from a picnic.
At the center of the operation was Dr. Marian Blosky, a history professor from Gold Coast University. One extended game of “telephone” resulted in the professor and her team of students swarming the yard en masse.
Still numb from the shock of the discovery, Maxi had called Ben Abrams at the Coral Cay police department. He, in turn, phoned the medical examiner, who called Dr. Blosky.
Clad in a tan T-shirt and buff-colored hiking shorts topped off with an olive-green fishing hat over frizzy blond-gray hair, Marian Blosky would have looked perfectly at home on a bass boat or a hiking trail. But in the backyard of Flowers Maximus, she was clearly in charge.
“I can’t tell you how thrilled we are with the discovery, Mrs. Más-Buchanan,” Dr. Blosky said, tapping her clipboard absentmindedly with her pen. “If this truly turns out to be Sir George Bly—or even one of his men—this find could help us fill in a blank page in the history of this state. Perhaps even the nation. Pirates and piracy played a much larger role in our story than most people realize. So how did you know he was here? Local legends? An old diary? Markings in the landscape?”
“We were putting in a garden, and poof—there he was,” Maxi said. “And Oliver found him.”
“Which one of the lads is Oliver?” the professor asked, scanning the corner of the yard where various neighbors and shopkeepers had gathered to watch the action from the sidelines.
Kate hadn’t told anyone about the find. And other than a quick call to Ben, neither had Maxi. But somehow word had gotten out, and townspeople just started showing up. By the time Dr. Blosky arrived with her team, they’d already had a crowd.
“The fuzzy one,” Maxi said, pointing. By the edge of the trench, which had been haphazardly covered with a blue tarp, Oliver was stretched out, sphinx-like. Relaxed, but alert. On guard.
“So you mean you really had no idea anything was there this whole time?”
The professor shook her head. “When amateurs make a find like this? Well, most claim it was an accident. Or beginner’s luck. Some of them even try to tell us that they picked up their artifacts at a rummage sale. Likely story! Later, we usually find out they’re amateur treasure hunters. Scavengers, really. Working off some kind of tip. Local legends. Old maps. Oral stories passed down through the family. Something. And they just don’t want to give up the location of the site. But this? An untouched discovery in situ? Astonishing. And truly wonderful.”
Copyright © 2020 by Eve Calder.