Discovery: Cocaine Eggs, Chapter 16
“Is that a lighthouse, Marol?” Rory asked. “Oh, that’s Loggerhead Key Lighthouse. We’re close to our photo shoot. We’ve traveled farther than I thought.” “A loggerhead is the sea turtle, right?” “Yes, and they come onto the beaches to reproduce. The whole area is off-limits to hunters, but historically turtles were a natural food source for European sailors. The unsuspecting turtles would swim up on the beach at night to lay their eggs, only to find themselves rudely inverted and carted off by three or four men. Each one weighed two hundred to five hundred pounds. Hunting turtles became a social event called “turning turtle.” “That lighthouse island doesn’t look big enough to make camp for your shoots,” he decided. The island was simply a sand spit with a tower on top.
“Oh no, we camp on Garden Key, three miles away. If you look straight east, you can see a structure. That’s where we camp.” “That looks like a castle, a fortress.” Rory pointed to a brown structure on an island far to their right.
“Yes, that’s Fort Jefferson. After the War of 1812, a group of forts from Maine to Texas was built to defend the United States of America. This fort was named after President Jefferson and was intended to be the greatest in the chain.” She turned to her brother. “Hugh, let’s go to Garden Key and see if the fort has any damage.” “How old is the fort?” Rory asked. “Two hundred years old. It was first a lighthouse. The fort was built to protect the southern coastline of the new United States and the lifeline of commerce to and from the Mississippi River. Remember, Thomas Jefferson had just purchased Louisiana from France in 1804. Now you folks had more southern real estate to guard instead of a few colonies along the Atlantic coastline. And the War of 1812 made that painfully clear.” As they approached the island, the fort's brick walls loomed in front of them. Rory looked down at the water. “Marol, we’re not very deep. I can see the bottom of this reef.”
“Deepwater is a few minutes south, Rory. Havana, Cuba, is only ninety miles away, separated by the Florida Straits, which drop 6,000 feet.
The strait carries the Florida Current, the beginning of the Gulf Stream, from the Gulf of Mexico up the Atlantic seaboard.”
“Wow, the water is so transparent.”
“It’s warmer too. The water temperatures run between seventy to eighty-five degrees. I’ll take you snorkeling first chance, I promise.”
The boat turned south into the channel leading to the Fort Jefferson dock.
"The fort is a large, hexagonal, two-story, brick edifice with parapets along its top.”
Rory nodded. “Look,” he pointed. “The parapet is a darker color than the lower two stories. They must have added it later.” “The lower stories are built with bricks made in Pensacola, from Florida soil. The fort stayed in Union hands during the Civil War. Because they weren’t done with the place when the war started, all the top bricks came from Maine.” “What a fun story.” Rory smiled. “You know a lot about this place.” “History is one of my favorite things, and because I travel so much, I’m always learning the history of the places. The moat around the fort offers great places to snorkel. Coral is growing all over the rocks, and there are a lot of fish and lots of things to see.”
Captain Abié slowed the boat and aimed for the dock in front of the fort, less than a quarter-mile away. “See those things sticking from the water? Those are pilings from the old coaling dock. There were two coaling docks, on the north and south, and both are great places to snorkel. That’s the south dock ruins, but you don’t want to go into the pilings there. It’s too dangerous as they’re falling apart. But cool fish are living among them.”
“What kind of fish do you see here? I’m used to orange Garibaldi, moray eels, and clawless lobsters on the west coast.”
“In the pylons, I saw a nurse shark, which is not dangerous, a lemon shark, a few barracuda, and a sting-ray. The coolest thing, though, is the tropical fish, the iridescent parrotfish,” she smiled. “Oh, and the blue sergeant majors, which you’ll see all over. They swim with you wherever you go snorkeling. Then there are; blue tang, beautiful live coral, sea fans that are dark purple, sea urchins, and finally, starfish. It’s gorgeous, Rory.”
Rory and Marol were on the port side, nearest the island, peering over the gunwales into the tropical watery world. “What’s that white round thing, Marol?” “Hmm, let me see.” “Look right there; I see white coral down there.” “It must be trash. Coral isn’t white, at least not until it’s bleached.” “Someone dumped a bunch of trash, and there’s more in front of the pilings." "That’s interesting.” Hugh and Kip moved to the bow and stern, handling the ropes and preparing to dock on Dry Tortugas. Fort Jefferson was directly before them, still imposing after two hundred years. Its brickworks were still intact; even the moats held water just as designed. “Why do forts have big-picture window openings on the second floor?” Rory asked. “Those are embrasures, openings in the walls for the cannon to fire. Every cannon was so big it had its special room, called casements or gun chambers. They form the backbone of the fort.” Captain Abié cut the engine, and the men tied the boat.
Marol ran across the moat to the front gate. “It’s locked,” she discovered. The group walked around the front section instead. The red brick contrasted with the greenery of the palms and tropical evergreens.
"Boy, this sand is white, and with the aquamarine color of the water, more inviting than our California beaches. This place is paradise.” “Maybe; this is just different and new for you, Rory. You live in a beautiful spot, too,” Marol took his hand. “We can walk along the moat, and I’ll show you the snorkel spots.” “Look, I see more of those white coral heads on the beach, rolling in the surf,” Rory pointed when they rounded the berm to the south facing the beach. Bending down, he grabbed it. “Holy shit, this isn’t coral. It’s an ostrich egg, Marol!” He handed it to her, walked a few feet, and picked up another. “There must be thirty eggs here, rolling in the surf,” he said in open-mouthed disbelief. “These can’t be sea turtle eggs, can they?” Marol asked. “No, he said. “Turtle eggs are smaller. These are ostrich eggs; I know they are, wow...” Staring at the egg, he inhaled sharply, “Marol, these eggs have plugs in them.” He walked to the concrete edge of the moat and tapped the egg to crack it open. A large piece of the thick shell broke away, spilling out the dry white powder. He licked his finger, tasted the dust, and nodded his head. “Cocaine, Marol! There’s cocaine in these eggs. That’s why they float; they’re lighter than the water. They float until they spring a leak.” “How many do you think there are?” He chuckled. “Hundreds or more.” He nodded his head in slow certainty. “There are going to be some awful eager Easter egg hunters around here soon, do you know that?” he smiled. “How many eggs do you want?”
“Two, one for me and one for Mum and Dad.” She laughed. He loved her smile.
“Watch this,” he said. He grabbed an egg and threw it against the moat wall. It exploded into hundreds of pieces.
“Thousands of dollars, poof.” He did it again. “Here’s another.”
“What are you doing?” “I don’t know, I guess I just snapped,” he laughed. “Do you know how crazy this is, Marol? I guess all this devastation has been harder on me than I thought. It’s like, what’s next, you know?” “Exactly, just like a Twilight Zone episode, Rory. I know what you’re feeling.” “Hugh, Kip, Cap’n, come on over. It’s party time!” Rory yelled. No one heard him; they were on the other side of the Key. “Let’s take some and let the authorities know. We should have Captain Abié radio in as soon as possible.” Rory couldn’t risk losing his vet license fucking around with this shit.
Discovery: Cocaine Eggs, Chapter 16