To settle a bet about pirates between Eddie and his sisters, Eddie took them down shortcut along the river path toward the harbor. There, in the darkest, bushiest place, a one-legged man ambushed them, and before they could escape, told them of a mysterious spot in the nearby mountains, where water runs uphill, compasses go crazy, and if you get too close you forget to dig for it. When their science teacher verifies that such a spot may exist, they race to find it before the pirates do.
One sunny July day, Albert Keenan went to his office early for an important pre-trial meeting. He was so concerned about the meeting that he forgot to text his three children the list of all the extra things he wanted them to do that day. When the children finished their daily assigned chores, they sat on the porch, smart phones in hand, and tried to decide what to do the rest of the day.
Kathy, the oldest, in junior high, said, “We should download a good book to read.”
Nancy, in elementary school, said, “We should go downtown and get a Latte.”
Eddie, also in junior high, said, “We should go down to the pier and find a pirate.”
Nancy wrinkled her nose. “There’s no such thing as pirates, not since the Spanish sent all the New World’s gold home on treasure ships.”
“I agree,” said Kathy. “And besides, those ships all sailed the Atlantic Ocean. None of them ever came by here. Santa Christina is a Pacific Ocean port.”
Nancy typed on her phone, and then held it close to her brother’s face. “See, no pirates in the Northeast Pacific.”
“I don’t care what you or Google say,” Eddie snapped off his words, “I bet if we went to the pier right now we’d find a pirate.”
“What would you bet?” Kathy asked.
“I’ll bet you a latte,” Eddie said.
“Hey,” Nancy said. “If you two are having a latte anyway, why don’t we just go downtown and get one?”
“That’s fine with me because Kathy’s buying,” Eddie said.
“Not me, you’re buying.”
“Hush you two,” Nancy said. “This is easy enough to settle. We’ll just swing by the pier on our way downtown. Then we’ll know who is going to buy.”
There are two ways to get from the Keenan house to the pier. One is the boring way along the city’s streets. The other, is the overgrown path along the bank of the San Andreas River. Since all three of them still wore the clothes they wore to do their chores, flip flops, cut-off Levis, and T-tops for the sisters, Bermuda shorts, sandals, and a muscle shirt for Eddie, they decided on the path along the river.
The river once again ran wild. Salmon and trout swam in it. Trees and thick bushes lined its banks. In the summer there were sand bars to fish from, rope swings above the cliffs, and lots of good swimming holes. In the winter, there were floods.
Eddie led them single file down the river path. About half the way to the pier, they entered a thick stand of trees and bushes. When they reached its heart, a man jumped into the path in front of them. Both girls screamed at the sight of him.
He dressed in rags, tattered shoes, and with his gray hair and beard long and knotted, he looked like most of the Santa Christina homeless. A tri-corn hat perched on the back of his head. The bottom half of his right leg was different. It was a cockeyed stainless steel prosthetic. He supported himself by leaning on a dirty crutch.
“Argh,” he said. “See what the path brought me this morning.”
Eddie backed up three steps. Nancy moved close in behind him. Kathy, the oldest, stepped past them both and faced the man.
“Let us by. We’re on our way to the pier,” she said, her voice firm, her back straight. Since their mother died two years before, Kathy became the watch dog for her younger brother and sister.
“To find a pirate,” Eddie added.
“Shiver me timbers,” a deep and raspy voice uttered. “A pirate is what you’re looking for. And why do you want to find a pirate? Is it treasure you’re after?”
“No,” Kathy said. “We’re trying to decide who gets to buy lattes today.”
The man stared at them.
“A latte is not so much a treasure as a treat,” Kathy said.
“Aye, a treat is it,” the man said. “Well finding a treasure is a treat too. Do you know there’s treasure around here?”
“There’s no treasure around here,” Nancy said. “All the treasure went to Spain.”
“Argh,” the man said. “Don’t you be so sure. There’s talk of treasure in the mountains close by. They say that when you get to it your compass goes crazy, water runs uphill, and you get so sick and dizzy you forget to dig for it!”
“Oh bah,” Kathy said, “A compass always points north and water always runs downhill.”
The man’s eyes narrowed to slits.
“What is that place?” Eddie asked.
“It’s the Mystery Spot,” the man said. “Where it is, that’s a mystery. And why things do what they do there, that’s a mystery too. But one thing people say, they say the creek that runs by it flows into the San Andreas River. They say if you drink the water from that very creek just as it meets the river, you won’t get dizzy when you get to the Mystery Spot.”
“Phooey!” Kathy said.
“Phooey!” the man shouted. He reached out and grabbed Kathy with the hand not holding his crutch.
“Ouch! Let go! You’re hurting me!”
“So you don’t believe in treasure, eh?”
“Argh, yell all you want girl, no one can hear you. Haw, haw, haw.”
Just then, Eddie darted behind the man’s back and kicked his crutch as hard as he could. The crutch flew into a bush. The man toppled toward the dirt path. He let go of Kathy’s arm and tried to catch a branch as he fell. He missed.
“Run!” Eddie said.
The three of them dashed past the fallen man and ran until they were standing on a sandy, beach.
Nancy stopped to catch her breath. “I’m pretty sure we’re safe now.” she said. “Is that ugly man following us?”
They all peered back toward the path. When nothing appeared, Eddie asked, “Do you suppose there really is treasure up river?”
“I doubt it,” Kathy said. “I don’t think we can believe anything that crazy old coot had to say.”
The San Andreas River path ends at a broad, sandy, beach where its fresh water meets the sea. Kathy, Eddie, and Nancy walked through the sand toward the nearby Santa Christina pier. They could see several sail boats and a few yachts anchored in the bay. Commercial fishing boats snuggled up next to the pier. An inflatable Zodiac moved around among all of them, its one-man crew first talking to sailors on one boat, and then another. Eddie could make out the words “Fish and Game” painted on the Zodiac’s side.
When the three reached the pier’s pilings, they climbed up a long ladder from the beach to the top of the pier. Toward the sea end of the pier they could see several parked vans with company names painted on them. Next to the vans were piles of crates waiting to be loaded on either a ship or into one of the waiting trucks. There were no people anywhere in sight.
The pier, intended, but never used, as the railroad terminus for the entire central coast, was very long. They walked for five minutes before they came to a man leaning against a railing. Dressed in seaman’s shoes, blue trousers, a blue shirt, and a sailor’s hat, he looked every bit the part of a commercial fisherman.
“Excuse me, sir,” Eddie said. “We’re looking for pirates. Do you know where we can find one?”
“Why, now that you mention it, I myself am a pirate.”
“See,” Eddie cried, pointing at his sister, “I told you so.”
“You don’t look like a pirate,” Kathy said. “You look like a fisherman.”
“Of course I don’t. How do you suppose I could sneak up on people right here in the harbor if I looked like a pirate?”
“Is that your pirate ship?” Nancy asked. She pointed to the trawler tied to the pier below where the man was standing.
“Yes, it is.”
“It looks like a fishing boat to me,” Kathy said. “It’s even got crates all over on its deck.”
“You may think those are just crates,” the man said, “But they’re not. Those crates cover up my ship’s guns. When we come sneaking up on our target we don’t want them to know we’re ready and able to shoot them.”
He pointed to the top of the tallest mast. “See, we even keep the skull and crossbones flag hidden until the very last minute.” They all looked. No one could see a black flag.
“What do the flags up there blowing in the wind mean?” Eddie asked.
“They tell the other ships that we sail as soon as the tide turns. It’s been coming in for some time. We need it to be going out before we leave. Saves fuel, you know.”
Nancy asked, “Do you just go about capturing ships at sea, or do you also look for treasure?”
The man laughed. “Oh, we look for treasure all the time,” he said with a wink.
“We just heard about some treasure buried right here in Santa Christina, or at least near here,” Eddie said. “It’s buried at the Mystery Spot.”
“It is? Well now, you wouldn’t want to tell an old pirate all about it now, would you?”
Eddie continued, “We don’t know exactly where it is, but when you get there your compass goes crazy, water runs uphill and trees grow sideways.”
“I know a spot like that on Big Rock Candy Mountain,” the man said. “There, when the water gets to the top of the hill, it turns into lemonade.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Nancy said.
The man quickly answered, “Speaking of compasses, have you ever seen a ship’s compass? It’s kept right there in the pilot house.” The man pointed to a structure near the bow of the ship.
“I’ve never seen one,” Kathy said.
“Come with me then, all of you, and I’ll show it to you.”
Nancy said, “I don’t think we should”
“I don’t think so either.,” Kathy said. We’d never get into a car with a stranger. We certainly shouldn’t get into a boat with a stranger.”
Eddie said, “I wouldn’t miss it for anything. Come on.”
Eddie followed the man down a gangplank to the deck of the trawler, his sisters trailed behind. Two sailors, also dressed in blue clothes, met them at the bottom of the gangplank. They saluted and said, “Welcome aboard.”
By the time they all got to the pilot house, the sailors had untied the ship and were pushing it away from the dock with long poles.
“Wait,” Kathy said. “We’re moving!”
“Of course,” the man said. “The tide has changed. We’re on our way to the open sea.”
“We can’t go to sea,” Kathy said, “Our father would kill us.”
“Now, now, don’t you get so uppity with your Captain. You know how pirates get their crews, don’t you? They shanghai them. You are all now a part of my crew.”
“I don’t want to be crew,” Nancy cried. “I want to go home.”
“Too bad. Give me your phones.”
A sailor snatched Nancy’s phone from the back pocket of her cut-offs. Then he caught Kathy’s hand and wrenched her phone from her. The Captain swung his arm, smashed it into Eddie’s wrist, and then calmly picked up the phone from the deck where it fell. He then dropped all three smart phones into a cloth bag, and pulled the drawstring tight.
“Thank you,” he said.
A sailor appeared from the hatch next to the pilot house carrying a pile of clothes. “These should fit all right,” he said. He gave each of them a blue shirt and blue dungarees.
The three of them stood on the deck, holding their new clothes, when the Zodiac drew alongside. It slowly turned until its bow touched the center of the trawler. The roar of the Zodiac’s twin outboards filled the air.
The Captain glared at Kathy, Eddie, and Nancy. “Go on, get dressed, you’ve work to do. Hurry, I’ll have no lay-abouts on my ship.”
A crewman put his hand on Nancy’s back and gave her a shove toward an open hatch.
Just then, Eddie heaved the clothes in his arms into the sailor’s face, and yelled, “Follow me! Jump!”
Eddie took three steps, climbed the rail, and jumped down onto the deck of the Zodiac. Nancy and Kathy leapt in right behind him. Eddie broke their fall when they landed.
The Captain laughed out loud, and threw the bag of smart phones to the man standing at the Zodiac’s controls.
The three felt the Zodiac shudder as it backed away from the side of the trawler. A man stepped from the ship’s controls to where the three lay sprawled on the deck.
Nancy screamed, “That’s a pirate ship. They shanghaied us.”
The man looked at the trawler, now under full power, rapidly moving away from the Zodiac and its occupants.
“Who are you?”
“I’m Kathy Keenan, and this is my brother Eddie and my sister Nancy.”
“Are you Al’s children?”
“I thought so. He’s looking for you. What are you doing out here?”
Eddie said, “We came to find a pirate. We did, so now Kathy owes us all a latte.”
“Well, that “pirate” just wanted to teach you a lesson about getting onto boats with strangers. And, I’ve got work to do. I think we’ll all stay out here in the bay for a while. The latte, and your father, will have to wait.”
Kathy said, “They took our phones. Could you call our Dad and tell him where we are?”
The man held up a cloth bag. “I’ve got your phones in this bag, but you don’t get to use them until your father gives them back to you, probably after he makes sure you’ve learned your lesson.”