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Authors: Benjamin Wallace

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BOOK: Tortugas Rising
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It was Katherine’s turn to blush as she pulled the jacket closed and turned to leave. She turned back. “Thank you, Steve.”





“This is ImagiNation!” With the flair of a practiced showman, carnival barker, or pickpocket, Warren Baxter stood aside the windows of the main salon and presented the man-made islands on the horizon. The applause was inebriated and enthusiastic.

Paul sipped his drink as he studied the view. From his seat near the bar, he could see seven islands – their man-made nature evident only from water muddied by unsettled sediment. He knew from the website that there were three hundred and ninety-seven others just like them.

The audience erupted into conversation as everyone clamored to the windows for a better look. Paul remained near the bar as the line thinned out.

“Where did you put the bags?”

Paul turned, “Good news, Steve. They thawed out Walt Disney. This guy Baxter and his world of ImagiNation put on quite a show while you were gone.”

“What did he say?”

“The bad news is that the name ImagiNation isn’t just a placeholder. He really seems serious whenever he says it. He even looks to the sky when he says it, as if it were a stroke of genius. Other than that he didn’t say anything that wasn’t in the prospectus that Campbell sent us. He just added extra thanks for everybody’s money. You got a personal nod.”

“It’s not my money.”

Paul sighed, “It wasn’t your money. And, it wasn’t your investment. But, now it is your money and your investment. These are your islands, man.”

Steve took the drink from his friend’s hand and drained the glass.

“You still don’t get it, do you, Steve? You’re rich! Rich beyond belief. You need to start believing it.” Paul ordered another drink. “You’ve got so much money now that your job is to watch your money. And, even at that, there’s too much to watch. Lucky for you, I’m willing to help.” Paul took the drink from the bartender.

“Lucky me.” Steve took the drink from Paul’s hand and took a sip.

“You’d better believe it. Do you think I actually enjoy eating the finest foods, driving the fastest cars, and spending my working days traveling to brand-spanking-new paradises? No. I do it for you.” Paul ordered another drink.

“Thanks.” Steve finished the drink and placed the glass on the counter.

“The fact that you pay me to do it doesn’t hurt either. But, I’m starting to look at my job as making sure you realize what you have. And, that you start enjoying it. Take the new suit you’re wearing. You can’t be comfortable in that. Hey, you’re wet.”

“I’m glad your watching out for me.”

“What happened? You fall overboard?”

“Never mind. Where are the suitcases?”

“I’m not really sure. I gave them to some guy and that was several whiskeys ago.”

“Great. I’m going to go stand on the bow until I dry out.”

“I’ll join you. I could use a better view of the islands.”

“Paul? If I was to ask you, as my self-appointed Director of Spending, what you thought of this investment. What would you say?”

“Steve, it’s brand new dirt. They don’t make this stuff anymore. These islands are going to sell like mad. Forget all this ‘ImagiNation, your imagination is the limit’ crap, and you’ve still got a brand-new paradise, with the very large checks being made out, in part, to Steve Bennett of Delacroix Industries. With a friendly fraction going to me. Plus, it’s a great excuse to drink girlie drinks without feeling all gay.”

“Just go find the suitcases and bring me another one of my fine new suits. And, tell Baxter I need to speak to him. I’ll be on the bow playing king of the world.” Steve took Paul’s drink from his hand and walked onto the deck.

“There’s a bar right here Steve!” Paul ordered a fourth replacement whiskey from the bartender. “Some manners, huh Isaac?”

“My name is Roger, sir.”

“Of course it is, Isaac.”


# # #


The wind blew cold through his wet clothes. The whiskey was warm in his stomach. And the thought of a multi-billion dollar fortune in his name made him shiver. In the end he felt that they all balanced out.

“Mr. Bennett?”

Warren Baxter extended his hand; the smile on his face was broad and genuine. Bennett offered his hand in return.

“Warren Baxter. I am delighted to finally meet you, Mr. Bennett.”

“A pleasure, Mr. Baxter.”

“Warren. I insist.”

“If you say so, Warren.”

“I do. I hear you wanted to speak to me. And, I wanted to speak with you, Mr. Bennett.”

“Steve. I insist.”

“Of course.”

“I wanted to talk to you about Miss Bernelli.”

“Yes. An unfortunate situation.”

“I would prefer it if no action was taken against her.”

“She did slap your friend.”

“My friend deserved it.”

Baxter smiled.

“He told you the limerick, didn’t he?”

Baxter nodded. “Vulgar but amusing.”

“So you understand?”

“Consider the matter closed.”

“Thank you.”

“No, thank you. Thank you for coming. Your last minute appearance was a pleasant surprise.”

The conversation devolved into smiling and nodding. Steve was more uncomfortable than ever. He regretted that small talk was something he would have to learn.

“It’s a nice boat. Ship?”

“This is nothing. I actually got it off of eBay, would you believe it? An old ferry we had gutted and refurbished at the last moment. Actually, if you can keep a secret, some of the paint is still wet.

“But, this ship is nothing compared to what you will see over the next couple of days. My dream of heaven on earth has come true on these islands. And you and the other investors have made it happen. I can’t thank you enough for that.”

“It was my father’s investment. Not mine. Though I must say that I am beginning to get excited about it.”

“I’m glad to hear it. I can’t wait for you to see it all. The resorts built here are the finest in the world. Rivaling any you may have stayed in.”

“Well, I would hope so, since up until six months ago I was staying in Super 8’s or anything next to a Shoney’s.”

“Right, I’m sorry. This must all still be a dream for you.”

“It’s a little difficult to get used to. I’ve been kind of easing myself into the role of heir.”

“My boy, you can’t ease yourself in. You have to jump right in. And tonight you will experience the lavish lifestyle you now deserve. The main resort of the central island has no equal. You’ll finally get a taste of the good life, Steve.”

He forced a smile to match Baxter’s, “That’s great, because so far it’s really just been a lot of paperwork.”

“A terrible necessity. Tonight you will see the fun side of being filthy, filthy rich.”

A hostess approached and spoke softly to Baxter.

“Of course, I’ll be right there.” He turned back to his guest, “Excuse me. I’m needed in the radio room.”

“Of course.”

“I look forward to talking later. I’d love to hear more about you and your father.” With this, Warren Baxter, the dreamer behind the islands that now surrounded them, turned and walked back towards the ferry’s bridge.

“That makes two of us, Warren.”

Paul came around the corner with a dry suit in one hand and a drink in the other; he almost knocked the older man off of his feet.

“Ah, Mr. Nelson. Thank you for the amusing story about the girl from Huntsville.”

“No problem, Baxie.” Paul winked at the hostess as she lead Warren Baxter to the radio room then brought the suit to Steve.

“Here, I grabbed the other Armani and the fancy pants that came with.”

“Forget the Armani. I’m pretty sure I packed a pair of Levi’s.”

“Yes! It’s about time.” As Steve walked away, Paul tore off his suit jacket and shirt and threw them overboard leaving only his ‘Hooray For Boobies!!!’ t-shirt exposed to the bright Gulf sun; it’s glow-in-the-dark design charging for a long night.





David Jefferson had held the stare until the man in the wet Armani turned away. Confident he had made himself clear, he turned and climbed into the rear seat of the runabout. His large frame dropped deep into the cushion for the rest of the journey back to their ship.

The Rainbow Connection sat at anchor on the far side of the man-made islands created by Warren Baxter and his myriad investors. The old freighter was a former merchant ship that had spent most of its life crossing the Atlantic. Now it held, not cargo, but men dressed in hemp shirts, cargo shorts and Birkenstocks.

All it had needed was a quick cleaning and a few hand-painted rainbow flags to suit the new owners who were little more than a website and non-profit form. They had organized in response to the announcement that ImagiNation would undertake the largest land reclamation project in the world. Within weeks of the development’s press release they were steaming towards the project.

They arrived shortly after the first surveyors, and irritated those plotting the islands with laser pointers. They played chicken with the dredges as the ships tried to empty hoppers full of sediment into the green-blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. And they kept careful records of everything they had seen.

The ship’s on-board database contained numerous files on everyone who stepped foot on the islands. Terabytes of data stored detailed information on anyone associated with the project: builders, sailors, financiers and more. One file was missing from the ship’s computer.

“Who’s the punk?” Jefferson asked the man settled in the bench seat next to him.

“I don’t know.” Conner Fredericks was small and wiry; a camera hung from his neck. “He must be new. I managed to snap a few shots of him before we soaked them. I’ll start putting something together when we get back to the ship.”

Jefferson’s eyes were cold. “I don’t like not knowing things. These islands are almost finished. Hell, half of them are mostly developed. I don’t want any surprises.”

“As soon as I get back. I’ll run him through the system. Promise.”

“No surprises, Fredericks. We’ve waited too long.”





The islands of ImagiNation rose from the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Each was elegant and finely cut, shaped and carved from the earth as if struck by a jeweler. The lush vegetation stood in stark contrast to the brown of the mottled water below and the blue sky above.

Very little development could be spotted from the deck of the ship. What few rooflines that could be seen were obscured behind landscaped clusters of trees.

The one exception lay directly off the bow. A single island, larger than the rest, was the foundation for a grand hotel. A Mediterranean-style building rose several stories above the flat waters and towered above the surrounding properties.

“Master Key, the central island, will house our main facilities: the resorts and casino, the spa, shopping and services. There is even a race track on the island.” Katherine stood between the two friends, but leaned closer to Steve as she spoke.

“Race track?” Steve, finally dry, had, at Paul’s badgering, asked Katherine to give them a personal tour as the yacht sailed through the island chain.

She nodded, “
Road and Track
is actually doing a photo shoot there next week.”

“It must be a popular place.”

“The hotel itself isn’t set to open for a couple of months. Mr. Baxter insisted that the investors see it before the public.”

“Are we staying in the hotel? Because, I’m not sharing a room with the rich kid.” Paul threw a thumb at Steve. “He snores.”

“No, Mr. Nelson, you’re not. But, due to your late arrival you will be asked to share a private villa.”

“Private villa? I guess I’ll manage.”

“It’s beautiful.” Steve was lost in the sight of Master Key. “Is it the only completed island?”

“No. Most of the islands have been completely reclaimed. Only one outer cay is still being formed. Many of the private islands have already been developed.”

“That’s a lot of tiki huts, Kat.” Paul had slowed his drinking but still leaned on the rail of the ferry for support.

“Hardly. You should see these estates. Each island is developed by the owner to his or her own personal tastes. Even the shape of the island is customizable. One investor brought a castle from Europe. He’s having it rebuilt stone by stone. He calls it Avalon.”

“A castle on an island…where do you put the moat?”

“Many of the investors here are owners. Maybe you should ask them.” Katherine had been happy to agree when Steve asked her for a personal tour. But she had been certain that his friend would have found a cozy bunk to pass out in by now.

“Maybe I will.” Paul turned to look back into the crowd on the deck. “Avalon, eh? So I just have to figure out which one of these guys would be into his own sister.”

“This may sound like a stupid question, Katherine. Are any of these islands mine?” Months before the lawyer had simply handed Steve a brochure with a dollar amount scrawled across the top. It didn’t specify what the money had bought. They may have said more but the inheritance had come as such a shock and the paperwork in such a barrage that he couldn’t remember much of what the lawyers had said.

“Yes. But it’s the final unclaimed island. Your father passed before he finished designing it.”

“Oh. I guess I’ll be in one of the huts then.”

“The villas are hardly huts. Each is appointed with the latest technologies, finest linens…”

“You’re starting to sound like the brochure.”

“I’m sorry. I spent the last three weeks poring over the literature to get ready for today. But, you won’t be alone on Master Key. Most of the guests here today are staying on the island.”

“Are their paradises not ready yet?”

“Mostly, no. Power will be supplied from the central island. But, it has yet to be run beyond the core islands. So, unless they’ve put in a generator, they’d be sleeping in the dark. Plus, not all of the people here are owners. They’re merely representatives here to watch over the investment.”

“I’ll resign myself to the super-premium hut then.”

She laughed and placed her hand on his arm. “You’ll have to excuse me. We’re not far from docking and I need to see to the arrival. But, I’d be happy to show you around later. There’s so much to see. And not all of it’s in the brochure.” She turned and walked away, slowly.

Paul and Steve each looked after her longingly as she disappeared in to the main cabin.

“She laughed and touched you,” Paul said.

“I know.”

“What you said wasn’t funny.”

“I know.”

“I think she likes me, Steve.”

“I think you’re an idiot, Paul.”


# # #


“Come, everyone. I can’t wait to show you what we have done. Together we have all built paradise!” Warren Baxter led the crowd down the composite gangplank onto the central dock at Master Key.

“Every island is unique. Each investor has complete control of his or her environment. Vegetation, development, even the shape of the island itself can be changed to fit their vision of a perfect paradise. Of course you all know that. Many of you, or your employers, have already crafted that paradise from your very imagination. But, what I want to show you is the rest of the amenities available to our residents and future guests.”

Steve and Paul fell to the back of the crowd, each hesitant to step from the gangplank. Steve felt out of place; Paul was drunk. An army of porters forced them to move from their perch as the uniformed force moved up the ramp to retrieve the luggage.

Baxter continued, “This is Master Key – the largest and central island in the archipelago. On it stands the grand hotel and casino. Here you will find shopping that rivals Rodeo Drive, spas offering the most indulgent treatments and so much more. We have brought the world’s finest goods and services to ImagiNation.”

Steve looked at the boats that lined the marina. Yachts and sailboats sat empty. Sailed by their crews to the island chain, they awaited the arrival of their owners. Even the fleet of water taxis bobbed in silence against their moorings.

“As you know, the only way to ImagiNation is by boat or seaplane. And, the only way between the islands is by private boat or water taxi. Around us sits a small portion of our fleet. These vessels will take visitors and residents between their destinations. Because, even though we have it all on Master Key, there is so much more to do and see.”

“The old guy is turning in to Dr. Seuss on me. When do we get to the hammocks, Steve?”

“You were the one that talked me into this. Remember, Paul?”

“Spread throughout ImagiNation are specialized islands: sporting fields, water parks, we even have a game preserve with guided safaris. You can see the world from Master Key.” With this Baxter paused for effect. The only sound was slight lapping of the waves in the protected harbor and the rustling of the palm trees. Birds chirped occasionally. Steve wasn’t sure if they were migratory, imports, or animatronics, but they remained true to the ‘world of your own’ effect.

An engine tore through the silence.

The crowd turned to face the disturbance. A large patrol boat roared into the harbor.

“Ah, and security. ImagiNation offers the best in security to ensure the safety and privacy of all of our guests.” Baxter said.

A security officer leapt from the boat as it drifted into its berth. Despite the heat and humidity of the day, the guard wore a full uniform that consisted of a dark long-sleeve shirt and matching pants. No badge or patch presented the man as island security, but the large pistol at his side, and the shotgun slung around his neck, were more than enough to distinguish him from any guest on the island.

The boat was moored. Another man in uniform stepped from its deck. He addressed the crowd.

“My apologies, Mr. Baxter. We didn’t expect you so soon.”

“That’s quite all right, Chief. Our pilot surprised me as well. He put the ferry through its paces and got a new top speed out of her. Shaved ten minutes off of our time.”

“Still, I’m sorry for the dramatic entrance.”

“Ladies and gentlemen. This is our Chief of Security. Mr. Richard Savage. Chief Savage leads a small army of officers hired to protect the property and privacy of our residents and guests. Their experience makes them more than qualified to chase off the paparazzi, discourage a peeping Tom, or sink a pirate ship.” Baxter laughed at his own joke. “Though the likelihood of that is slim.”

The security chief nodded but didn’t laugh at Baxter’s weak attempt at humor. A scar ran through his right eyebrow and intensified the hardness in his eyes. He looked to his men, who scrambled to secure the equipment from the patrol craft. He turned back to the crowd.

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Master Key. If there is anything myself or my men can do to assist you, please do not hesitate to ask.”

“Do your men carry rifles all the time?” An older woman nodded to the weapon across the man’s chest and took half a step behind her husband. It was unclear if she was more afraid of the weapon or Savage himself.


“Same thing.”

“No, ma’am. As I mentioned, you arrived before we expected you. My men will only have their sidearm at all times. Rifles and shotguns are mission specific and will be kept out of sight of the guests. As a matter of fact, my men will remain out of sight, as best as possible, unless needed. Each of them has extensive training in weapons and security, and are only here for your safety.”

With this said the security personnel on the boat left the dock and disappeared into the landscaping that surrounded the dock.

“Cool,” Paul leaned into Steve, “ninjas.”

The older lady had relaxed little; it was the security chief that frightened her. She stared at Rick Savage as she spoke. “Warren? Is all of this really necessary? Guns and fast boats? Is it really paradise with all of this? Can’t you just give your men pepper spray or those laser things?”

“I assure you ma’am, my men are the best. Each has years of milit…”

“I wasn’t speaking to you, Mr. Savage.” The braver her tone, the further she stood behind her husband.

Baxter raised his palms, “Mrs. Pritchard, I assure you that we are in good hands here. And, whereas we are in paradise, we must assure that all of our guests are safe from any possible threat. With this much wealth in one place, ImagiNation may seem a tempting target were it not for Chief Savage and his men. And as he stated, the ‘big guns’ only come out when absolutely necessary.

“Now, if you will please proceed down the path. The porters will take you to your rooms and our brunch should be ready for us in the hotel in an hour.” Baxter turned to Savage as the porters hefted the passengers’ bags and led the guests down the path to the hotel.

“Mr. Savage. What is with the shotguns?”

“A hippie boat needed a hole in it.”

“Please, watch the labels. Just make sure they don’t interfere with the tour again. They buzzed the ship on the way in. They gave one of our guests quite a soaking.”

“They’ll be stuck on their ship for a while. My men put their launch out of action.”

“Very good. Try to keep your men out of site. And keep up the good work.”

Steve and Paul stood on the dock and watched the crowd, and Warren Baxter, disappear around the bend. They each shook their head in disbelief at the choreographed movements of the porters and laughed.

Rick Savage also shook his head is disbelief. “Pepper spray. Yeah, right lady.” He stepped back onto the boat to retrieve his gear.

“What do you think about the security, Paul?” Steve mocked Mrs. Pritchard’s arrogant tone.

“I think with a name like Rick Savage he had to enter private security. You know? Or porn. I’d have picked porn–if it were me. But, I don’t know what his options were. Maybe he’s got a little…”

“I think it would be best if you gentlemen caught up with the rest of the group.” The security chief had come from nowhere. One moment he was on the boat; the next he was behind them.

Paul jumped.

Savage was relaxed but there was a menace in his expression. It was the scar. The change was subtle at first; but as the security chief glared at Paul the scar across his brow darkened to a deep crimson.

Steve shuffled off, trying to hide a laugh as Paul and Savage locked eyes.

“Sir?” Savage gestured to the path.

Paul stood silent, too brave – or too drunk – to let go of the stare. Finally he smiled and pointed to the holster on the security chief’s hip. “I have a gun. It’s not as big as yours though.”

Savage said nothing. There was no change in his breathing, no anger in his eyes – only the deepening red of the scar.

“So, I’ll see you at the brunch then?” Paul stepped around the broad shoulders of the security chief and walked to the end of the dock. He turned the corner of the path.

“I hate the rich.” Savage said as he heaved the bag of gear over his shoulder and strode down the dock to his office high in the Grand Hotel of Master Key.

BOOK: Tortugas Rising
13.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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