He has ambition and a sharp knife. What becomes of a modern day Blackbeard?



It can be strange, the way things happen. I didn't think it funny at the time, but my killing Ladon Pardon really was a funny thing. Funny in the ironic sense, you understand. Not funny, ha-ha. No murder is funny that way.

Especially not Ladon's murder. You see, he was my best friend. Had always been my best friend, in fact, since boyhood, since almost before I could remember. And he had remained my best friend right up to the point when I rammed the eight inch blade of my knife into his belly.

I remember how he grunted in surprise, then exhaled slowly. He asked me, "Why?" I pulled back my right hand, withdrawing my steel from his guts. I said, "Because, I have to." Then I stabbed him again. And again. It wasn't a vicious thing. I mean, I had to kill him. There was no other way out for me. But I didn't want him to suffer. I had hoped the first shot would stop his clock right away. Only, it didn't turn out that way. Like I said, it can be strange, the way things happen. I stabbed him three times, because that was all I could manage. He kept groaning sickly, and making these horrible bubbling sounds in the back of his throat. I couldn't hit him again. So I left my knife in him the last time around, and took a couple of quick, stumbling steps backward. Ladon fell to the ground and pulled the blade out of his body. It was all bloody, and there were bits of half-digested food in the mix. My own stomach rolled over. I vomited into the grass at my feet. When I looked up again, Ladon was just lying there, one hand lying across his abdomen, the other running through his long, thick hair, trembling, covered in his own blood. His mouth was moving, he was trying to say something, but I couldn't hear any sounds. Then his hand stopped moving, and fell to the ground. He wasn't dead though. His eyes were still open, and his chest was still moving up and down, slowly, shallowly. It took him a long, long time to die. I watched him go. His eyes never closed.

When it was done, I picked up my knife and wiped it off in the grass. Then I searched through Ladon's clothing until I found his wallet and a crumpled envelope he had received in the mail two weeks earlier. This last item was the solution to all the troubles of my life. It had been intended to be Ladon's salvation, his ticket out of the Louisiana bayous and swamps where we had been raised. Now it would be mine.

With trembling fingers, I gingerly opened my friend's billfold. His Louisiana driver's permit, replete with color photograph, stared back at me. For all I could tell in the dim, midnight moonlight, it was a photo of myself. We looked so much alike. People were always confusing us, and many people we met together mistook us for brothers. Sometimes twin brothers, even. It was odd, how I didn't feel bad about what I had done. I had killed my brother, the only person in the world that I cared for and that cared for me. But I wasn't sorry.

I was elated. I knew Ladon would want the best for me. Many times had he pledged to give his life for me. I had pledged to make the same sacrifice for him. As it turned out, his was the oath fulfilled. I'm sure he would have wanted things to turn out the way they did for me, if only I had had the time to explain everything to him. Except there wasn't enough time in eternity to tell it all. He probably would have understood that, too.

I removed my own billfold from the back pocket of my jeans, replacing it with my late friend's. Mine, of course, went into Ladon's pocket before he, in turn, went into the bayou.

I didn't bother to weight the corpse. This was the dark heart of bayou country. This was the domain of alligators and catfish, lovers of dead flesh. By the time he had floated far on the sluggish, almost stagnant current of the bayou, I knew his features would be rendered unrecognizable. Ladon would become me, and I him.

His truck, an old Chevy Silverado, was parked atop the levy, its motor idling. We had only stopped to piss on the side of the road, but I had pretended to see something really interesting in the water. Ladon, curious as ever, had willingly followed, unsuspecting to the last.

Now I climbed into the driver's seat of my new truck, and turned on the interior light. There was no need to hurry away from the scene. This was the one spot along this lonely, overgrown road that came so close to the bayou. I wanted to make sure Ladon had floated down stream a bit, well into cover, before I moved on. So I spent the first few minutes of my new life reading the letter so carefully folded and stored away inside the envelope I had taken out of Ladon's-- MY pocket.

It was a short letter, printed on expensive paper. The private letterhead included an ink and pen drawing of a sleek, modern yacht, along with the name Avocet stenciled underneath.

I smiled. She was a fine vessel. A million dollar vessel. Radar. Sonar. An internally stowed launch. She had one hundred twenty five feet of waterline, with a consumables capacity suitable for long, ocean crossing voyages. She was bound for Barbados. And I was to crew her, as Ladon Pardon.

Big boats like the Avocet were so complex that the process of sailing them had been reduced to a relatively simple matter. Most everything could be controlled from the pilot cabin, and the equipment that couldn't be serviced from there had been designed to either function forever, or be easily replaceable. Further, her navigational systems were fully automated and tied into U.S. Naval satellites, which kept the Avocet's computers constantly updated regarding her changing position on the face of the Earth. This information was utilized by the nav-computer for comparison to a huge database of charts and maps. All of which made plotting courses, maintaining true headings, and avoiding reefs a comparatively simple task. With the right tools and experience, one man could run the ship indefinitely, and he didn't need to be a master pilot or navigator to do it.

I thought about all these things during the long voyage to Barbados. I watched, listened, and learned.

The owner was a fat, complacent man, as were his wife and two children, both teenagers. They all sulked a lot, and argued off and on. It didn't seem to be a happy vacation, but, for all I knew, it was business as usual for the well to do family. Maybe it was natural for rich people to fight all the time. I didn't like it much, but it was none of my business.

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