Subterranean Press

Skip to Main Content »

 
Shopping Cart (0 item)
My Cart

You have no items in your shopping cart.

You're currently on:

Treasure Island: A Lucifer Jones Story by Mike Resnick

I’d been on the high seas for about a week after leaving my pal Capturin’ Clyde Calhoun on an uncharted island that seemed to specialize in apes with pituitary problems, and I figgered at the rate of speed I was rowing I’d arrive at Australia just in time to die of extreme old age. Even Basil, the shark what had been keeping me company, couldn’t take that snail’s pace no more and set off to find himself a ladyfriend or a meal.

Now, I’d read stories and heard poems about people what had been cast adrift, but that wasn’t exactly my situation, since I’d put out to sea on my own, with a month’s supply of drinkin’ water and another month’s supply of drinkin’ stuff. I didn’t take no food to speak of, on the assumption that an ocean as big as the Pacific wouldn’t have no shortage of fish, and indeed it didn’t. But it had a shortage of firewood, and after a couple of days of eating raw fish I figgered I’d just stick to the two barrels of liquid I’d brung with me.

Which is how I came to be on the high seas, like I said, with most of the water and maybe a week’s worth of the beer left, and not feeling much pain at all. I think if I’d drunk one more quart of native beer I’d have been too far gone to even see the island, though of course when they fired half a dozen cannon shots across my bow as a gentle request to heave to, and then they fired one into the boat, I probably would have noticed ‘em just before the ocean closed in over my head.

Well, let me tell you, getting shot at can be a sobering experience, and damned lucky that it was too, because all that water kind of brought me to my senses right quick, and the oversized turtles snapping at my toes didn’t slow the process none either.

I decided I could either swim to the island and find out what in tarnation the problem was, or I could swim to Australia, and while I never doubted I could make it that far, me being the fine figure of a man that I am, I just couldn’t face any more raw fish for breakfast, so I headed for the shore instead.

I finally waded ashore and found myself in a typical South Seas port, with couple of docks and a few shambling bars and stores facing the water (though I got to admit that on most islands it’s pretty hard not to face the water), and I found myself confronted by a bunch of men whose clothing had seen better days and whose faces hadn’t seen hide nor hair of a razor blade since Hector was a pup. (Actually, I don’t know who or what Hector was, but I’ve heard about him being a pup so often I figger he must have won Westminster or Crufts or one of them other horse races for dogs.)

The tallest of them, who sported an ivory peg leg and a sour expression, approached me, walked once around me, and then stood back and stared at me as intently as I used to stare at Bubbles La Tour when she did her Dance of Sublime Surrender at the Rialto 5-Star Burlesque Emporium back in Moline, Illinois.

“What are you doing here, stranger?” he said at last.

“Mostly avoiding being drowned, no great thanks to you and your friends,” I answered.

“You got a name?” he growled.

“The Right Reverend Honorable Doctor Lucifer Jones,” I said.

“That’s six names,” said another of them.

“And you’re not working for him?” continued the one with the peg leg.

“I ain’t working for nobody,” I said. “I was just peaceably rowing my way to Australia when you blew my boat out from under me.”

“We’re in a very delicate situation here,” he said. “We had to make sure you weren’t one of the enemy.”

I looked around. “This damned island can’t be two miles across,” I said. “How the hell many enemies can you have?”

He finally seemed to relax. “I guess you’re okay, Reverend,” he said at last. “Come on into the tavern and I’ll buy you some grog.” He stuck a hand out. Well, I thunk it was going to be a hand, but what it was was a hook. “Long Henry Gold is my name.”

“Pleased to meet what’s left of you,” I said, taking his hook kind of delicately.

I followed him into the tavern, where we were joined a minute later by the rest of his pals.

“Why are you going to Australia?” he asked when the barkeep had poured our grog, which looked remarkably like whiskey and tasted even more so.

“I been traveling the world for close to twenty years, Brother Gold,” I said, “looking for the perfect spot to build my tabernacle. Someone told me Australia would be a nice place for it.” Actually, someone did tell me that about fifteen years earlier, and it was easier than explaining that it was the only remaining land mass that I hadn’t already been banned from.

“Why not think about building it right here?” he suggested.

“You got a lot of natives that are ready to hear the Word of the Lord, do you?” I asked.

“Nary a one,” said Long Henry.

“Then who’d come to hear me on a Sunday morning?”

“I can see I’m going to have to be upfront and honest with you, Reverend,” he said.

Now, this set off all kinds of warnings and alarms inside my head, because whenever someone says he’s going to be upfront and honest, it’s kind of like a wolf saying he’s just finished eating and he’ll be happy to watch your sheep for a few hours while you ride into town to visit your favorite house of excellent repute.

“To begin with,” continued Long Henry, “my men and I aren’t natives of this island.”

“I kinda got that impression,” I allowed.

“It fact, it may shock you to know that we claim no country at all,” he continued. “We come and go when and where we want.”

“And of all the places in the world, you decided that this here island was the most perfect spot?” I asked.

“The most lucrative,” he answered.

“Looks like a couple of hundred other islands I’ve seen since I left Chile and headed west,” I said.

“Reverend Jones, I’m going to lay my cards on the table. My companions and I are pirates.”

“Well, it had to be that or gentleman farmers,” I said.

He stared at me kind of curiously. “Now why would anyone think we were farmers?”

“Clearly you’re one with the dirt,” I told him. “Any fool can see that.”

“Ah!” he replied with a knowing smile. “But you’re not just any fool.”

I didn’t know if I was being complimented or insulted, so I just sat there and waited for him to keep talking.

“We are pirates,” he repeated. “And even as you and I sit here speaking, we are within a mile of the greatest treasure ever taken.”

“If you’ll pardon an indiscrete question,” I said, “if that’s the case, why are you here instead of spending it in the glittering capitols of the world?”

“We have a problem,” he said, frowning, and all his men frowned and grunted in unison. “That’s why I had to make sure you weren’t working forhim.”

“I ain’t working at nothing and for no one,” I assured him. “I’m just making my leisurely way to Australia to set up my tabernacle and bring spiritual comfort to all them jailbirds what got deported from England. Especially the female ones.”

“I believe you, Reverend,” said Long Henry. “But we couldn’t take any chances. Too much treasure is at stake, and we’re dealing with a very clever antagonist.”

“If the treasure’s within a mile, why don’t you just pick it up and vamoose?” I asked.

“It’s within a mile, certainly a mile and a half, but we don’t know where it is.”

“Well, you buried it, didn’t you?”

“No, he did.”

“Who is this guy you keep referring to?”

“Our former partner. While we were fleeing from the authorities, leading them a merry chase around the ocean, he came ashore with the treasure and buried it.”

“And now he won’t tell us where it is!” yelled one of the pirates.

“How do you know it’s still here?” I asked.

“Because he’s still here!” growled Long Henry. “He knows we’re watching him, and that we won’t let him leave the island with anything more than the clothes on his back.”

“Why not pay him a visit and beat the location out of him?” I asked. “It seems simple and straightforward.”

“Nothing is ever that simple when it involves Erich–”

Stop!” I hollered, holding up my hand.

“What is it?” asked Long Henry, his hand on his pistol, his eyes darting around the tavern.

“I don’t want to hear what comes next,” I said.

“What are you talking about?” he demanded.

“Just tell me that the next word out of your mouth wasn’t gonna be ‘von‘,” I said, “and we’ll get along fine.”

“You’ve heard of Erich von Horst?”

“I asked you not to say that,” I said unhappily. “That’s the only thing you could have said that could make a year of raw fish look appetizing.”

“Yeah, he’s heard of him,” said another pirate.

“He’s on the island, right?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Okay,” I said, getting up. “I’m outta here.”

“You don’t have a boat.”

“I’ll swim.”

“There are sharks in the ocean.”

“There’s a bigger shark on the island,” I said, starting to walk to the door when Long Henry grabbed–well, hooked–me.

“You’ve had experience with him,” he said. “I implore you to stay.”

“I don’t believe you’ve been listening to a word I said,” I told him.

“You know how his mind works. Join us as a partner.”

“There are only ten of you,” I said. “Even if you tossed all your brains into the pot and stirred ‘em together, you ain’t got the brainpower to beat him.”

“Have you?” asked Long Henry.

“Well, of course I do,” I said. “I’m probably the only guy in the world what can match intellects with him.” I paused and frowned. “I just wish I could match luck with him.”

“He has bested you before?”

“In Tanganyika,” I said.

“I am sorry, my friend.” said Long Henry sympathetically.

“And Casablanca,” I added. “And Mozambique.”

“Clearly Africa was not a lucky continent for you,” he said.

“And Greece,” I continued. “And England.”

“Europe was no better, eh?” he added.

“And Rio,” I said. “And Bogota.”

“At least you’ve had experience with him,” said Long Henry.

“That’s why I’m on my way out of here,” I said, pulling loose and heading toward the door again.

“Fifty,” he said just before I reached it.

I stopped. “Fifty what?”

“Fifty percent.”

“Of the whole kit and kaboodle?”

He nodded. “Fifty percent.”

“And all I got to do is find out where von Horst hid this treasure?”

“That’s right.”

“By God, I’ll do it!” I said. “He can’t stay lucky forever.”

“Thank you, Reverend.”

“A mere Doctor Jones will suffice,” I said magnanimously. “Now, my first question is: why ain’t all ten of you out digging day and night?”

“The island is almost four square miles,” said Long Henry. “And the chest is perhaps thirty inches long, twenty inches wide, and two feet deep. We could dig fifty thousand holes and not find it. That’s why we’re still here. We’re waiting for him to make a move to retrieve it.”

“Now what exactly is in this here treasure chest?” I asked.

“Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, pearls, and other precious gems.”

“And only von Horst knows where it is?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, take heart, men,” I said. “Once I bring my prodigious brain to bear on the problem, he won’t be the only one for long.”

We all drank to that, and then I figured I’d better find a place to stay, so I moseyed over to the only boarding house on the island–the notion of hotels hadn’t tooken root yet–and rented me a room overlooking the pit where they dumped their garbage, a fact what was brought home to me with a vengeance every time the wind blew from the west, which it did for about thirty hours a day.

Tropical islands tend to stay pretty warm and muggy at night, so I was kind of surprised to wake up and find a snake and a turtle snuggled under the covers with me. Outside of that, and the fact that the water didn’t work, and a salamander took a swim in my morning coffee, it wasn’t no worse than a lot of jails I’d been a guest in, though of course having no door on the room was a constant reminder that it wasn’t no jail.

When I woke up I tried to find the dining room, only to discover that there wasn’t none, so I began walking through the village, all two blocks of it, and finally found a one-star eatery which seemed to be all the rage, because everyone I’d seen the day before was eating there.

I grabbed a seat, and a minute later they brung me out my breakfast, which looked an awful lot like a dead fish.

“Not to worry, Doctor Jones,” said Long Henry from another table. “We sent off for parts, and we should have the stove in working order in another month or two.”

“Maybe I’ll just have a glass of water,” I said.

“Sure,” said the waiter. “As long as you don’t mind some salt in it.”

“I always put an olive in it and pretend,” said Long Henry.

“Me, I usually pour in some pepper to bring out the subtle nuances of the flavor,” said the smallest of them.

“I don’t believe I saw you last night,” I said.

“That’s because you didn’t look down,” he answered, extending a hook. “Short Tom Blake.”

“You guys seem to have tangled with a lot of sharks,” I noted, shaking his hook kind of carefully. “Or was it swordfights?”

“Actually, it was Long Henry’s dog,” said Short Tom. “Worst tempered animal in the South Seas.”

“Except for Lulubelle,” added another pirate, this one with a patch over his eye.

“She gouged that out, did she?” I asked just to be polite.

“Nah,” he said. “She spit in it when I started playing itsy-bitsy spider on her leg. I’ll swear that woman hasn’t so much as rinsed her mouth since her permanent teeth came in.” He extended a hand, the first one I’d seen without a hook at the end of it. “Pleased to meet you, Rev.”

“And you are?” I asked.

“Depends on which island’s constabularies you’re talking to,” he said.

“How’s about I just call you One-Eye?”

He nodded. “Sooner or later everyone does.”

I looked around the room. “I got a question,” I said. “This is the only eatin’ place in town, right?”

“That’s right,” said One-Eye.

“And this is the only town on the island?”

“That’s right, too,” chimed in Short Tom.

“So where does von Horst eat?”

“See that bungalow about half a mile up the beach there?” said Long Henry, pointing out a window.

“He lives there?” I said.

“Right.”

“Then forgive an impertinent question,” I continued, “which I asked yesterday and didn’t get no answer to, but why haven’t the lot of you gone over there and beaten the location of the chest out of him?”

“Rufus,” said Long Henry.

I looked up. “Is it leaking?”

“No, Rufus!” said Short Tom.

“Rufus to you, too,” I said. The conversation wasn’t making no sense, so I figured I’d drink the water that the waiter had just brung me, and go off to outwit von Horst.

“What do you think of it?” asked the waiter with such interest I figured he was the chef too, and he wanted to know what I thunk of his water.

“Lacks a little something,” I allowed.

“Like what?” he said.

“Like meat and potatoes and bread and beans and maybe a pint of ketchup,” I said. I got up and walked to the door. “Okay,” I announced. “I’m off to confront the enemy.”

One-Eye wished me good luck. So did Long Henry. Short Tom and the other seven just crossed themselves.

I went out into the street, spent about half a minute walking to the edge of town, and then headed over to von Horst’s place.

As I walked I looked around for chickens or pigs or even a seagull or an albatross that I might cook up for lunch, but all I saw was an occasional tree or bush, which still looked a lot tastier than the water.

When I got to within maybe fifty feet of the bungalow I heard a very earnest growl, and I turned to see a mighty big, mighty powerful, mighty angry-looking dog, streams of foam running down his mouth, teeth bared–and from where I stood he looked to have about two hundred of ‘em, all of ‘em sharp. Suddenly the growl turned into a roar louder than any I’d ever heard in lion country back in Africa, he broke into a run that would have done Man o’ War proud, and I figured me and my Silent Partner would be hobnobbing in person any second now.

Then I heard a familiar voice yell: “Down, Rufus!”, and damned if the dog didn’t drop in his tracks.

“Why, my old friend Doctor Jones,” continued the voice. “What are you doing on this God-forsaken piece of sand?”

“Just out for a Sunday walk,” I said.

“It’s Tuesday,” he said.

“So I’m a little early.”

“You’re also four thousand miles west of where I last saw you.”

“I thought I’d take a beach holiday,” I answered.

He stared at me for a minute, then shrugged. “Well, you’re here, so you unquestionably know about the treasure. Come on in.”

I took a step toward the bungalow, and Rufus growled.

“Will he let me by?” I asked.

“Put your hands in your pockets,” said von Horst.

I did like he said, and suddenly Rufus laid down on his side and began snoring.

“He only eats hands,” explained von Horst.

“Well, if that don’t beat all,” I said, walking right by him.

“You’d think Long Henry and his crew would have figured it out after the fifth or six time,” said von Horst. “I’m afraid your temporary partners aren’t the brightest bulbs in the lamp.”

“What makes you think they’re my partners?” I asked.

“Oh, I’m sure you plan on finding the treasure and making off with it yourself,” he said. “But if they catch you, they’ll cut you to pieces, and besides, I was watching when they sank your boat. You’ll need their ship to leave the island, and you can’t handle it alone.”

“How did you plan to leave?” I asked.

“I have my own luxury yacht parked over there,” answered von Horst, pointing to an elegant boat moored about twenty yards out to sea.

“Why wouldn’t I just use that?”

“I made Rufus a present of it,” he said. “And he guards it jealously.”

“But I know the secret to getting past Rufus now,” I said. “I’ll just keep my hands in my pocket.”

“So you’re going to teach the treasure chest how to heel and swim?” he asked.

I hadn’t thunk quite that far ahead, so I just stood there trying to come up with an answer.

“Come on inside, Doctor Jones,” he said, “and let’s talk a little business. There’s enough treasure for both of us.”

“There’s always enough for both of us,” I said bitterly. “But somehow you always wind up with it.”

“You’re going to have to do something about this residual bitterness,” said von Horst.

“Robbing you blind should take care of it,” I said, following him into his house.

“I apologize for my meager surroundings,” he said, indicating the leather sofa and chair, the marble table, the framed paintings, and the mahogany desk, “but one must adjust to circumstances. May I offer you a drink?”

“Depends on how much salt it’s got in it,” I said.

He smiled, pulled a bottle out from a beautiful cabinet, and poured me a glass. “Not a grain of salt, I promise,” he said, handing it to me.

I took a sip. “That’s pretty good drinking stuff, considering we’re marooned on an uncharted island.”

“Well,” he said with a deprecating shrug, “one does what one can. Have a seat, Doctor Jones.”

I chose the chair and he sat down on the sofa.

“How have you been since last we parted?” he asked.

“Broke,” I told him. “But you’d know that, wouldn’t you?”

“Did you or did you not try to double-cross me?” he said calmly.

“It didn’t work,” I answered, “so it don’t count.”

“And the time before, and the time before that?” he continued.

“That’s not fair!” I complained. “You always counted on me to try to cheat you! It was part of your mean, greedy, underhanded plan!”

“And yet I have always forgiven you for trying to cheat me.”

“That’s because you always wound up with the money!”

“Come, come, Doctor Jones,” he said in that low, mean, deceitfully honest and friendly manner of his. “We are two civilized men surrounded by a gang of ignorant one-handed cutthroats. There’s treasure enough for both of us, but we must trust one another.”

“You know what a horseplayer who lays his bets based on past performances would say to that?” I asked him.

“Then isn’t it fortunate that there’s not a horse within three thousand miles of here?” he said. “Now, we’re going to need a plan to retrieve the treasure.”

I glared at him for a full minute, and then said, “Why don’t we just go and dig it up?”

“I’m being watched day and night.”

“Fine. I’ll go alone.”

“How do I know I can trust you?”

“Like you point out, I can’t get it to the boat without using my hands, and old Rufus has got a thing about hands.”

“But you might just take a dozen of the most valuable diamonds and walk to the yacht with your hands in your pockets,” he pointed out.

Which I hadn’t thunk of until he mentioned it, but it suddenly seemed a pretty reasonable course of action at that.

“It won’t work, you know,” he continued.

“What won’t work?” I asked innocently.

“You’re going to need the key to start the yacht,” he said.

“If you say so,” I agreed, figuring I could always row and ride the currents to the next island and then book passage to a major port where I could unload the diamonds.

“You’re doubtless thinking that you can always row and ride the currents to the next island, where you’ll book passage to a major port and unload the diamonds.”

“I ain’t had no such a thought!” I protested.

“Good,” he said. “Because the yacht has got a very heavy anchor. You’ll never lift it without the winch.”

“So?”

“The key to both the motor and the winch is attached to Rufus’s collar,” said von Horst. “I would not advise you to reach out for it.”

Which meant I’d either have to hunt up a poisoned hand somewhere on the island to feed to Rufus, or I was going to need a different plan.

“Well, where is it?” I said. “I might was well grab a shovel and start digging.”

He shook his head. “You can’t do it in the daylight. The second they see that you’d unearthed it, they’ll kill you and keep the treasure for themselves.”

“I guess a little of you must have rubbed off on ‘em,” I said.

“Why do you keep saying such things when I’m going to make you a multi-millionaire?”

“Probably because I remember the last half-dozen times you were going to make me one.”

“I’m going to overlook all these childish displays of pique,” he said. “There’s too much money involved to lose sight of the subject at hand.”

“The word hand brings to mind another question,” I said. “How did you get mixed up with the other scum on this island?”

“I had just completed some dealings in the Pitcairn Islands,” he began.

“Yeah, I heard about that,” I said. He looked at me curiously. “Something to do with phony stock certificates and the biggest bank on Henderson Island going belly-up.”

“They were not phony certificates,” he said adamantly. “They were printed on perfectly good legal parchment. Anyway, as I was saying, I was ready to move on when I heard that someone had salvaged a treasure chest from a sunken ship and was bringing it in to have it appraised. There’s no official appraiser on Henderson Island, and I didn’t want them to be disappointed, so I bought a uniform, met them at the dock, invited them to an office I had rented that morning, and told them to come back in four hours for the written appraisal.” He frowned. “I believe I neglected to point out that keeping any salvage they found in the Pitcairn area was against the law.” Then he smiled and shrugged. “At least I stopped them from transgressing against the established maritime code. I’m sure they must thank me for that.”

“Where do Long Henry and the rest come into it?”

“They’d been on the track of the treasure, and followed the discoverer–I really can’t call him the owner–to my office. Once he left they entered and asked about it, but of course they thought I was working for the Pitcairn government. I let them bribe me into becoming their partner. We agreed that they’d let themselves be seen with an empty chest and then let the authorities chase them while I went off with the real chest and no fanfare, and that we’d meet later at Rasputin’s Bar on Ducie Island and divide it up.”

“I don’t know how to point this out to you,” I said, “but this ain’t Ducie Island.”

He shrugged. “I must have lost my compass.”

“I guess they must have found it and returned it to you.”

“Not before I buried the chest,” he said with a smile.

“So all I have to do is dig up the chest and bring it here and we split the take?”

He nodded. “I’ll even let you share the yacht until we hit a major port where you can arrange transportation to wherever you plan to live in luxury.”

“Well, I might as well get started,” I said. “Where is it?”

“I admire your eagerness, but I’ve already explained you that you have to wait until dark,” said von Horst. “After all, they are pirates.”

“There’s only one person on this island I know not to trust,” I answered.

“Well, you’ve been warned,” he said.

“Maybe I’ll take Rufus along for protection.”

“You have two hands. Most of them just have one. Who do you think he’s going to go after first?”

I had to admit I hadn’t thunk it through, and suddenly it made a lot more sense to leave Rufus behind.

I told him I’d be back after dark, and then I made my way back to what passed for town, and wound up with Long Henry and all the others in the tavern.

“Well, did you find out where he buried it?” demanded Long Henry.

“I’m working on it,” I said. “I should know by tomorrow afternoon.”

“Why not now?” asked Short Tom.

“The man’s sitting on millions,” I explained. “And he knows that in all the world, I’m the only one brilliant enough to do him out of it, so he’s being real cautious.”

“Ah, well, we’ll play it your way,” said Long Henry. “Have some grog.”

“Don’t mind if I do.”

The bartender poured me a glass and carried it over. “Here you go, Reverend.”

It was then that I saw that he was another one with a hook at the end of his arm.

“I see you met Rufus too,” I noted.

“Yeah, one day he was hanging around back when I took out the garbage.”

“I sympathize,” I said.

He shrugged. “It don’t hurt no more, except when the wind’s blowing from the west.”

“By the way,” I said, “I didn’t catch your name last night.”

“Lefty,” he answered.

“It’s getting on toward dinnertime,” announced Long Henry. “Coming across to the restaurant with us, Doctor Jones?”

I was thinking of drinking my dinner rather than looking at yet another dead uncooked fish when my Silent Partner smote me right betwixt the eyes with another of His heavenly revelations.

“Yeah, why not?” I said, joining them as they walked out the door. “You know, I’m getting mighty tired of raw fish. Mind if I go into the kitchen and see if I can fix the stove?”

“Hell, we’d be grateful if you would,” said Short Tom. “You need any help?”

“No!” I yelled. They all stopped and stared at me. “I get nervous when I’m being watched,” I explained quickly.

“Me, too,” said one of them. “We got to get some indoor plumbing.”

We reached the restaurant, and while they all sat down I went back into the kitchen, and pretended to tinker with the stove until the pirates started eating and I found myself alone. I cut open a couple of fish, took the meat and some gizzards, and shaped it like a man’s hand. Then I put it in a bag, stuffed it into my shirt, and walked back into the restaurant.

“Any luck?” asked Long Henry.

I shook my head. “You’re gonna have to wait for the parts to arrive.”

“Well, maybe not,” he said. “You hunt up that chest tomorrow, and we can be out of here tomorrow night.”

I sat down, and for the next half hour all they talked about was treasure and women, and it was difficult to figure out which they wanted most. Finally, just before we all got up to leave, Little Tom leaned over and whispered confidentially: “We all smell of fish, Reverend, and I don’t mean no insult, but you positively stink of it. You might think of taking a little dip in the ocean tonight, or at least before breakfast.”

I thanked him, told them I’d put in a long, hard day matching intellects with von Horst and was feeling tired, and that I was heading off for bed and would swim and see them in the morning.

I walked to the hotel, waited until it was totally dark, and then began walking to von Horst’s bungalow.

Just like the last time, Rufus began roaring like until a grizzly bear what had been given a hotfoot when I got near the place, but this time my prodigious brain had prepared for him. I got down on one knee and pulled out the hand I had made of fish meat and guts, and laid it on the ground right in front of me. I figgered while he was gobbling it up I’d reach out and pluck the keys off’n his collar.

He skidded to a stop right in front of me and glared at me with his hate-filled little red eyes, but he never looked down.

“It’s right there, damn it!” I said, pointing at the hand.

That probably wasn’t the brightest thing I ever did. He took one look at my finger, started wagging his tail, and reached out to bite it off. I could hear his teeth click on empty air as I barely pulled my hand back in time.

“On the ground!” I told him, quickly putting my hands in my pockets.

Finally he noticed it and lowered his head to grab it, and I got ready to reach out for the keys–but he took one sniff, made as much of a face as a dog straight out of hell can make, and backed off a couple of paces, then went back to glaring at me as if he was waiting for me to unfasten one of my hands and toss it to him.

“Is that you, Doctor Jones?” said von Horst.

“Yeah,” I answered. “You told me to come back after dark.”

“Come on in,” he said. “Rufus and I both forgive you.”

“For what?” I asked innocently as I walked to the door.

“Well, I didn’t see it, but I know how your mind works, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t try to craft a hand out of table scraps and distract Rufus with it while you grabbed the keys from his collar.”

“Why, I’d never do such a thing to a partner!” I said in outraged tones just as Rufus lifted his leg on the fishy hand. “You cut me to the quick.”

“Don’t tempt me,” he said, waiting for me to reach the door and following me in.

“Okay, I’m here,” I said. “How do I find the chest?”

He stared at me. “I don’t know,” he said at last.

“You don’t know where it is?” I bellowed.

“I don’t know if I can trust you.”

“I’m all you’ve got,” I pointed out. “Unless you want to trust the pirates what think you’ve stolen their treasure.”

“I’m a patient man,” he said. “I can just let it sit for a couple of years. I don’t even have to stay here. They’ll never find it, and I can always come back for it when they get tired of waiting and leave.”

There ain’t nobody that patient when they’re within a mile of a few million dollars’ worth of treasure, so I knew he was after something, and all I had to do was figger out what it was. Of course he planned to leave me behind once he had it, so clearly he wanted me to volunteer to do something that would keep us separate long enough for him to make his getaway, but for the life of me I couldn’t guess what it was.

“You’re probably thinking that I plan to leave you behind once I have the treasure,” he said. “Nothing could be farther from the truth.”

“The thought ain’t never crossed my mind,” I told him.

“What the hell,” he said at last with a deep sigh. “We’ve been friends for twenty years, so we might as well trust each other.”

That was four lies in one sentence, which was a lot even for von Horst. We’d never been friends, we’d only known each other for seventeen years, I didn’t trust him, and he didn’t trust me.

He sat down at a table and began writing down instructions, which would have made a little more sense if I’d known which direction was north and what a mango tree looked like. When he was finally done, he walked me to the door and pointed out the general direction of the chest.

“I’ve better take a lamp with me,” I said.

“That would just attract attention.” He handed me a shovel. “This is all you’ll need.”

“How am I gonna read the map you drew when it’s pitch dark?” I protested.

He pointed at the full moon. “Read by that,” he said.

I was still stalling for time, trying to figger out his game, but finally I couldn’t think of no more objections, and I went off, shovel in hand, thinking that if Rufus went after the hand what was holding the shovel, at least I had a fifty-fifty chance of knocking him flat with the business end of it.

Well, I found the three palm threes, and the flat rock, and then I went fifty-two paces north, trying to make sure my paces were the same as von Horst’s, which took a powerful lot of guessing since I hadn’t seen him takehis steps. When I turned east and got to the mango tree, I had to start being really precise, because I knew I was getting close. I turned south at the turtle shell, east again at the pile of pebbles, and then north a final eight steps, where X would have marked the spot if von Horst had known his alphabet all the way up to X.

I heaved to and started digging. Sand can be pretty heavy stuff, so I started taking breaks every three inches, but eventually, after maybe an hour, my shovel made contact with something solid about a foot down. That was just before the muzzle of a pistol made contact with the small of my back.

“We’ll take it from here, Reverend,” said Long Henry.

I turned around slowly, and sure enough, the whole gang was there, Henry and Short Tom and all the others, even Lefty.

“What are you doing here?” I demanded heatedly.

“Making sure you don’t run off with the treasure.”

“The damned island’s only a couple of miles long,” I said. “Just how far do you figger I was gonna run with it?”

“What’s to stop you from carrying it out to von Horst’s yacht and taking off before sunrise?” said Short Tom.

“If one of you wants to try that, I’ll be happy to stand back and watch,” I said.

“He’s got it booby-trapped?” asked Long Henry.

“He’s got an old friend guarding it,” I said.

Each of them except One-Eye grabbed his hook and moaned.

“Okay,” said Long Henry. “We’ll take it to the tavern and make plans there.”

“Should we shoot the Reverend now or later?” asked Short Tom.

“It’s bad luck to shoot a man of the cloth on a desert island,” I told him.

“He’s no threat to us,” said Long Henry. “And if you shoot him, it might bring that damned dog looking for a hand that won’t pull away from him.”

“All right,” said Short Tom. He gestured with his gun. “Finish digging, Reverend.”

“I am finished digging,” I said. “I could use a little help lifting.”

One-Eye and a couple of other burly pirates came over, reached down through the sand til they found the handles, and then pulled it up to the ground. It was mostly wood, with some fancy metal trim across the top and around the handles.

“Well, men,” said Long Henry, “we’ve got it!”

“And fifty percent is mine.”

“Hell, you can have the whole thing,” said Long Henry.

“I can?” I said, surprised.

“Sure. After we remove the treasure from it.”

I was about to protest when Short Tom shoved the muzzle of his gun into my back. “We can always give you a little lead to go along with the wood chest,” he said.

So we marched back to the tavern, and Lefty swept all the glasses off one of the tables, and they set the trunk down there.

“Okay,” said Long Henry. “Do we have a lockpick in the crowd?”

Two of them raised their hooks, Henry selected one, and he went to work and had the trunk open in about three minutes.

“Ain’t it beautiful!” enthused One-Eye, as the overhead light glinted off some gold goblets.

“It sure is!” said Long Henry. “Men, our fortune is made!”

Short Tom reached out for one of the goblets. “I just want to hold it for a second,” he said happily.

“Go right ahead,” said Long Henry. “You’ve earned it. Hell, we’ve allearned it.”

Tom reached out and hooked a goblet, and brought it up to his face to examine it. Suddenly he frowned.

“Hey, Henry,” he said. “Is gold supposed to flake?”

“What are you talking about?” demanded Long Henry.

“See for yourself,” said Short Tom, running his hook across the goblet, and revealing some very dull metal beneath the gold paint.

“What’s the hell’s going on here?” demanded Long Henry.

He took the goblet and looked at it, scratched some gold away, then slammed it down on the table. A large diamond rolled out. Lefty brought his hook down on it and it shattered.

“Damn!” said Long Henry. “Men, we’ve all been took, even von Horst. The ship probably carried this in case it was boarded by pirates. They’d give this to them, while the real treasure was probably hidden under a bed or in the kitchen.” He shook his head sadly, then spat on the floor for good measure. “Back to the ship!” he announced. “We’ve no reason to stay here any longer.”

“What about that?” asked One Eye, pointing to the chest.

“I told Reverend Jones that the chest was his.” He turned to me. “You can keep what’s in it, little good may it do you.”

He marched out the door, followed by the others, singing a naughty pirate song about a girl named Annabel who had three of everything most women only had one of, and they all joined in, and a moment later they were gone and I was the only man left in the tavern.

I put my powerful brain to work on the problem, and decided that I might be able to salvage a little something out of all this. It was still dark out, so if I delivered the chest to von Horst before sunrise, and didn’t bring it too close to the lit-up bungalow, and used Rufus as my excuse for not coming any closer, he’d have to examine it outside, and I had a feeling that this stuff looked like the real McCoy in the dark.

So that’s what I did, and when I was about sixty feet away Rufus went into his song and dance, and von Horst came rushing out of his place.

“What’s going on out here?” he demanded.

“It’s me,” I said. “And I got your treasure.”

“Excellent, excellent!” he said, approaching me. “Let’s get it to the yacht and be on our way.”

“Well, I been thinking about that,” I said.

“Oh?” he asked suspiciously.

“Yeah. You know, I been wandering pretty steadily for the past couple of decades, and I think it’s time I settled down.”

“Makes sense,” he allowed. “Where did you have in mind?”

“This here island is a pretty nice place,” I said. “Plenty of room, agreeable climate, with a bunch of buildings already up. Right here suits me fine.”

He looked around at what he could see in the moonlight. “You’re kidding, right?”

“No, my traveling days are over,” I said.

“I shall miss you, Doctor Jones,” he said. “Or may I call you Lucifer?”

“Doctor Jones’ll do fine,” I said.

“All right,” he said. “Let me take a look at the treasure, just to make sure you’re not trying to pull a fast one, and I’ll be on my way.”

“I’ll want a little something for my half of it.”

“But of course,” he said, opening the top. He stared at the contents for a minute, then nodded his head and closed it. “Yes, it’s exactly as it was. I’ll tell you what: I’ll give you six thousand dollars for your half.”

“I thunk it was worth millions,” I said.

“It is,” he agreed. “But six thousand is all the cash I’ve got at the moment. If you’ll give me the name and account number of a bank, I’ll be happy to deposit the rest once I sell the treasure.”

“Won’t do me much good if I’m never leaving the island again,” I said. “Just give me the six thousand.”

He reached into a pocket, peeled off a dozen five hundred dollar bills, and forked them over, and I knew I’d won out battle of wits, because it never occurred to him that I had nothing to spend it on here.

“One more condition,” I said.

“Oh?” he replied, arching an eyebrow.

“Take Rufus with you.”

“Deal!” he said, reaching out and shaking my hand.

“How come he never bites your hand off?” I asked.

“Take a look,” he said, staring down at our hands, which were still locked, and I saw he was wearing gloves. “He’s allergic to wool.”

Von Horst heaved the chest onto his shoulder and headed off to the shore.

“Long as you ain’t gonna use it no more, do you mind if I move into your bungalow?” I asked.

“It’s all yours,” he said as he reached the water. “Come on, Rufus.”

The dog jumped into the water and began swimming to the yacht. I stood there and watched until both of them had reached it, von Horst had flang first the chest and then Rufus onto the deck, and a minute later the motor started, the winch pulled up the anchor, and he was speeding away across the water.

So I’d made six thousand dollars and come out on top in a battle of supreme intellects. I was feeling pretty proud of myself when I walked into the bungalow and poured myself a drink. My brain was still working a mile a minute after proving its superiority, and that was when I saw it. The first couple of times I was in the bungalow I’d just thunk it was a framed painting, but this time, as I looked at it, I realized that it was actually a map, disguised as a piece of art.

I looked real close, and saw that it was dated 1783 A.D., and as far as I could tell it was a map of this island. There were a few lines in very hard to read kind-of English, but I pulled the painting off the wall, laid it down on the desk, grabbed a piece of paper out of a drawer, and started copying the instructions in some form of English that made sense.

When I was done, I knew I had the key to a real treasure, a key what had been hanging there in plain sight for a couple of hundred years, but which von Horst, for all his brilliance, had totally missed.

I went back to where I’d dug up the chest, picked up the shovel, went to the map’s starting point, and began pacing off the instructions. Took me about ten minutes, and some of the trees and such weren’t still standing, but fortunately it didn’t take me by no buildings, and finally I was there. I took a half-hour break, and then started digging, and in another hour, with only five ten-minute breaks to replenish my energies, I came to a metal box. It was too small to call a chest, and it was so well hidden that whoever buried it all them years ago didn’t see no reason to lock it, or maybe they simply didn’t have locks back then.

I sat at the edge of the hole, with my feet dangling down–well, as far as theycould dangle, considering the hole was only about eighteen inches deep–and opened the box, wondering what treasures it held.

The only thing in it was a folded piece of paper, so I pulled it out, unfolded it, and was confronted by some mighty familiar handwriting.

 

 

My Dear Doctor Jones:

Once again we have come to the satisfactory end of an adventure.

I had no idea, of course, that you would be involved in it, but I must say I experienced a feeling approaching relief when I saw you coming ashore, because not all cohorts, especially unknowing ones, are as dependable as yourself.

I knew Long Henry and his friends would enlist your services, and I knew you couldn’t resist to opportunity to rob me of a pirate’s treasure.

And a true treasure it is. As I say, I had no idea who the pirates would enlist in their schemes, but I know it would be someone. So before I left Henderson Island, I bought some junk jewelry and cheap goblets and candlesticks. Then, during the few hours I had before fleeing the Pitcairns, I built a false bottom for the trunk, crammed the millions’ worth of true valuables below it, and left the cheap trinkets on top, on the assumption that no one was going to let me dig it up, and this would convince anyone else that they were worthless knick-knacks top to bottom.

The day they blew your boat out of the water, I knew you’d be coming by the next morning, so I buried this missive for you that night–I’d long since found and removed the treasure that the map on the wall directed me to–and of course I let you think you were flim-flamming me with false treasure.

Oh, one other thing. If I were you, I’d spend that six thousand dollars very carefully. Boris Raskolnikov, who made it up for me back in Santiago, is a very careless craftsman, and I assure you that no matter what the engraving shows, Mae West is almost certainly not the President of the United States.

Yr. Obt. Svt.,

Erich von Horst

 

 

All I could think of was that it was a damned good thing he’d taken Rufus along, because if he’d left him behind I’d be biting off his paw right about now.

Location

Address:

P.O. Box 190106 Burton, Michigan 48519

Fax: