Righteousness was going to get us killed. We’d made so many mistakes in preservation of what we believed to be the moral high ground only to find ourselves paying for it in the end.
To take a life—even if the life belonged to the most vile of individuals—was not the ethical thing to do; it was not what we’d all been raised to believe ourselves capable of, and so we imprisoned those that would harm us instead of ridding ourselves of the threat their continued existence posed.
It was a mistake; a mistake we were all reflecting upon as we stared at the gaping hole in the wall where Juan Josef, Phil, and Dario had escaped.
We’d had a plan. Bud and Chris brought enough evidence from the future to support the claim that all we needed to do to erase the actions of both Juan Josef and ourselves was go home. If my daughter, Cecelia, never lived in the 18th century to marry and have children, Juan Josef’s wife, Gloria, could never be born.
If Gloria had never been born, Juan Josef would not have been exposed to the DEA officer, Richard Albrecht, and therefore, he would never run from him and into the storm.
All we had to do was get to the storm—get Cecelia through the storm. We had three months before the portal would open again and we planned to return close to the coordinates—ship and yacht loaded with supplies—to the island Maria and Chris had landed upon to wait for it. We would then go back to our time to gain memories where Juan Josef would’ve never kidnapped us, killed Anna, or caused us to poison the crew and therefore steal my sister’s husband and child away from existence.
We had a plan.
And Juan Josef, with his hidden passageways throughout the ship, had heard us discussing every word of it in the dining room the day before.
‘The knife is now at your throats,’ he’d assured us in his letter, referencing the binder that was now in his possession.
That binder—chock-full of details pertaining to each of our ancestries—was now his weapon; one that could take us out, one by one, should we not bend to his will and appear at the battle of Great Bridge, Virginia to kill Richard Albrecht’s ancestor, George Thomas Bennet.
“He can’t be far,” Lilly said as she stared out the small window of the cabin. “There’s not enough fuel to get them to Virginia…” She spun around to face Chris where he was kneeling at the side of the hole in the wall Juan had escaped through. “How much fuel did you have when you got here?”
Chris raised a shoulder. “Not sure. It definitely wouldn’t be enough to get to Virginia from here. Where would he go if not there?”
“The isthmus,” Juan Jr. said softly, still sitting on the edge of the bed staring at his hands. “Panama… There’s a trade route there he’s familiar with. He could easily buy passage across land to board another ship in Portobelo. It would cut the journey to the colonies in half.”
Beside me, I noticed Jack’s fingers curl into fists at his side. “Did you know? Did you let them go?”
“No,” Juan Jr. said, a breath of a word, shrouded in defeat.
“Bullshit,” Jack seethed, jerking him off the bed by the lapels of his jacket and forcing him against the wall. “You’ve sailed with your father for how many years? And you expect us to believe you never knew he had secret passageways throughout the ship? Isn’t that how you all spied on us? Wasn’t this all your plan to get right with God? Why are you still here?”
Juan Jr. didn’t so much as raise a hand in defense of his body and allowed Jack to shake him like a rag doll, his stance limp as his spine was pressed repeatedly against the wood paneling. “I do not know.”
“Bullshit,” Jack repeated, his fists tightening in the fabric of Juan’s collar. “You’re one hell of an actor, you know that? Playing the savior so we’d let our guard down… Did you send those men to attack us just so you could be the good guy? So you could let them get away then stay behind as the hero to secretly ensure we’d follow through on his mission instead of ours? Is that why you’re still here?”
Juan Jr. shook his head. “I do not know of any other mission than the one to kill the Albrecht.”
“No?” Jack slammed him against the wall again, an impressive feat since they were so close in stature. “Why would any of us believe that?”
Juan Jr. sighed. “There is nothing I can say in defense of my innocence in this matter you would believe at this moment.”
“You’re right.” Jack’s fingers unraveled from the fabric of Juan’s collar to slide up the sides of his throat.
“Jack!” Cece shouted. “Stop! You can’t kill him!”
“I can,” Jack said, his grip tightening. “And I will. We’ve lost too much by not doing so sooner. We should’ve killed them all when we had the chance.”
He was right. To put faith in Juan Jr. now—in anyone that wasn’t one of our own—would surely add another mistake to the list. There was far too much at stake. Killing him wouldn’t be permanent, not if we went through the storm. He would live again in another version of his life—just as Anna would.
“You’d kill a man that saved you?” Cece asked. “That saved your children? That has done nothing but try to help you in every instance you have needed the help?”
Jack shook his head, not taking his watering eyes off Juan Jr. as his skin turned shades of pink with the pressure Jack was applying. “It’s too late. I’m done with all of this. No more threats. No more stupid mistakes. No more.”
“Ay, Hoss,” Jim said evenly, inching toward them. “We cain’t sail this ship without him. Those men won’t sail without him. If we’re goin’ back to the storm, we gonna’ need him.”
“We’ll figure it out some other way,” Jack hissed, his eyes unrecognizable as Juan Jr. began to choke and claw at the fingers encircling his throat.
“Let him go, buddy,” Jim continued, eyeing Detective Haywood where he was moving closer with a hand hovering over the gun strapped to his hip. “You know we cain’t kill him if we wanna’ go home.”
Jack shook his head, a tear sliding down his cheek as his muscles tensed further and Juan Jr.’s complexion turned dark purple. “They threatened my children—my wife. He pretended to be good and he let the bastards go. We’ll never be rid of them until we kill them all.”
“That’s enough,” Detective Haywood announced, drawing his pistol and pointing it at the back of Jack’s head. “Nobody’s killing anyone today. Take your hands off him and put them where I can see them.”
Jack either didn’t recognize the danger or could no longer hear us. He continued to squeeze, unable to take his eyes off Juan Jr. as he clawed and kicked to instinctively save the life that was being choked out of him.
“Hands up or I’ll shoot,” Detective Haywood warned again.
My feet were lead; glued to the floorboards as my voice caught in my throat. I should’ve moved closer; should’ve done something, but I couldn’t. As much as I didn’t want to see Juan Jr. killed, Jack was right. We’d let too much slip through our fingers. We couldn’t afford to trust him with the death dates of both him and our son fast approaching. We couldn’t risk any other setbacks on the way home.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cece hand Cecelia off to Jim. She whirled past Detective Haywood and placed herself between the gun and Jack.
“Enough,” she said softly, giving the detective a warning glare before she side-stepped into Jack’s field of vision. “I can’t let you kill him.”
How tiny she looked beside them. She was barely over a hundred pounds and the top of her head hardly reached their shoulders. It was her instinct to speak up. She’d always had a sort of bleeding heart for any creature that was rendered defenseless. And Juan Jr. was certainly defenseless in Jack’s grip, even with the sword at his hip. She reached up to wrap her fingers around Jack’s, forcing him to meet her eyes. “He’s not a threat to us. Let him go.”
Jack frowned, regaining some bit of composure as he focused on her. “How can you say that? We don’t even know him. You’ve barely met him.”
She set her jaw, tugging at his hand where it was still applying pressure to Juan’s throat. “You’re wrong, Jack. I—”
Before she could say more, Bruce burst into the room.
“The yacht’s gone,” he panted, bending to catch his breath.
“Bud and Izzy are on it.”
“What do you mean they’re on it?” Lilly shouted, spinning back around to look out the window.
“They snuck out before dawn,” Bruce said between heavy breaths. “Bud was going to lock the binder up in his safe and Izzy tagged along at the promise of ice cream.”
The cabin erupted then. Lilly let out a shriek and collapsed into Jim’s free arm, sobbing incoherent questions no one could understand. Bruce and Chris began to argue about how quickly we could catch up to them if we left immediately. Kyle appeared in the doorway, hair standing on end as Jim informed him of all that had happened that morning. And at the distraction, Jack released Juan Jr., allowing Cece the opportunity to wedge herself between them while Detective Haywood kept his gun in-hand, unsure where the threat might lie.
“We have to catch up to them,” Lilly cried. “We can’t let him hurt them.”
“He won’t hurt a child,” Juan Jr. assured her through hoarse vocal cords, rubbing his still red throat.
“How can you guarantee that?” Jack snarled. “After what he did to Anna?”
“He was desperate with Anna,” Juan choked out. “He thought we were poisoned and needed a way to ensure the mission would go on without him. He has no reason to harm either of them.”
Lilly held the back of her hand against her nose as she turned to Juan Jr. “Did you see the two of them leave?”
Juan Jr. nodded. “He mentioned she wanted ice cream. I assumed you all knew. It hadn’t occurred to me they’d not returned.”
“How fast can this ship move?” Jack cut in.
My heart sank in my chest at the question. With it, an image flashed in my mind of that horrid piece of paper and the death date printed beneath Jack’s name: 1775… Weeks away. If we pursued, he would ‘die at sea’ as Bud had told me he’d seen on a handwritten chart as the evidence of it. And I could see in his face we would pursue… How could I possibly ask him not to when Izzy’s life was in danger? We couldn’t go to the storm without her.
“Eight knots in this weather,” Juan said, considering, “fourteen if we catch a good wind and lose some of the extra weight.”
“How fast can that yacht go?” Jack asked, turning toward Lilly.
She sniffled and her lower lip quivered. “At cruising speed, it can average eighteen knots… maybe more.”
“It’s what?” Chris asked, his brow furrowed. “Twenty-five-hundred miles between Hawaii and California? Add another two hundred or so for the trip here from the storm… How much fuel could they have left?”
“I… I don’t know…” Lilly wept.
“Think,” he insisted, “try to remember… Your grandpa said you used it more than anyone. We have to know how much fuel they have and if they can make it to Panama.”
She straightened, closing her eyes. “It’s got a… fifty-five hundred gallon fuel tank, and the holding tank’s maybe another five-hundred gallons? But I don’t know how many miles it can go on a gallon—I always had someone with me for that… I have no idea how far they might be able to go on what they have left.”
Detective Haywood cleared his throat. “We can assume, on a yacht that big and modern, it can get at least two or three miles to the gallon… Let’s say it’s two… if we are where you say we are, they could make it to Panama from here… with fuel to spare.”
“We cannot match their speed,” Juan Jr. said, “even were we to toss every bit of furniture overboard. We will not catch up to them on the water, and with so much distance between us, we’ll likely not catch them at the isthmus either. They’ll be too far ahead.”
“Your father has never been on a yacht like that one,” Jack pointed out. “It will be Bud in the driver’s seat, not him. And Bud is a smart man. He’ll know that we’ll be just hours behind them. He’d go slower and assume your father wouldn’t know it could travel any faster… that’s what I’d do.”
“And if we cannot catch them?” Juan asked. “Will we follow to Virginia? You mentioned another plan?”
“We can’t leave her,” Lilly breathed, glancing at me. “We have to follow.”
There was a long silence then as the entire room stared at Jack; all of us aware of his death date we’d intended on avoiding by idling near the storm coordinates for the next three months.
Jack’s eyes met mine and I saw his answer. He wouldn’t abandon Izzy. “We’ll follow.”
“Now hang on just a minute, Hoss,” Jim said, frowning. “We got three months before that storm hits, and a few weeks still before that death date. There ain’t no reason why we cain’t drop yuns off near the storm to wait while the rest of us hunt him down. Ye’ got babies to raise and there ain’t no sense in you dyin’ when the rest of us are just as capable of following him as you are.”
Jack shook his head. “Juan Josef was listening to us yesterday. He knows that if we…” He stopped and glanced at Juan Jr. “He knows about our plan. I can’t risk him harming either of them on my account if he intends to hold them hostage to ensure we don’t go through with it. Nor can I risk him taking out our ancestors if the effects of our leaving aren’t immediate. Cecelia won’t marry for nearly twenty years still. It could be years before anything changes.”
Bruce frowned at that, crossing his pudgy arms. “Then we should go to Virginia; go on with the plan to kill the Albrecht. We owe Anna her life, remember? I’m not willing to wait years to give it back to her. How long will it take to get to Panama from here?”
“If we do not stop,” Juan said, eyeing Jack with suspicion, “and if we can manage good winds throughout, we might be able to get there in a month.”
“A month?” Detective Haywood balked. “And then? How much longer will it take to reach Virginia?”
“Another month or so… if we can procure transportation for so many of us. We cannot take this ship. We’ll have to go across the trade route on horseback to Portobelo, then find another ship with the same destination.”
The detective pinched the bridge of his nose. “So… if we agree to go to Virginia, that’s at least four months before we can return. We won’t make the storm.” He shook his head at Jack. “If that death date is real… you can’t afford to miss it.”
“So we go to Panama,” I cut in. “And if we do not catch up, or if the yacht is not there, Jack and I will return on this ship with some of the crew while the rest of you go on to Virginia. We’ll take these babies through time and pray the effects of our leaving will be immediate. If they’re not, the rest of you will move forward with the plan to kill the Albrecht while we wait safely in the future.” I looked up at Jack, hoping the compromise would be enough.
Juan Jr. nodded in agreement. “Gabriel is as good a captain as I. He could return you safely while I lead the others in search of my father.”
“Why would you help us?” Cece asked sweetly, turning to face him. “Why have you helped us over and over again?
He reached into his jacket and produced a folded piece of paper. “He left this for me…”
Cece unfolded the paper after he offered it to her to reveal the ancestry chart with my and Jack’s names at the top. A big black circle was drawn around baby Cecelia’s name with the words, ‘save your mother’ written beside it.
Juan Jr.’s shoulders slumped. “He knew, even before he got this, she was your descendent.” He glanced at me. “That’s why he wanted Jack killed. He ordered my brother and I to do it and insisted you and the child go unharmed. I put it together then—the likeness to my mother… the necklace—my mother descended from the two of you, from her…” He nodded toward Cecelia where Jim held her against his shoulder.
“And when he told me he planned to take control of the ship and steal your daughter, I knew he’d finally lost whatever was left of his morality. I may not be a good man, but I will not kidnap a child, nor will I murder an innocent man. I could not do it then. I will not do it now.”
His gaze moved between me and Jack. “I can only assume, based on the year of death listed beneath your name, that your alternate plan is to return to the future… to remain there so my mother might never come to be; might never cause him to flee to that spot on the ocean… That’s what he’s referencing when he’s asked me to save her, isn’t it?”
None of us said a word.
Juan Jr. nodded, pursing his lips. “I do not look like like either of you. I have never resembled my mother in any way, and my name is not on this chart even though Dahlia’s and Dario’s are. Why?”
Again, we all fell silent, none of us sure if we could trust him with the truth.
“They were born after me,” he said, looking at Cece for an answer once he realized we wouldn’t offer one. “Why are their names listed and mine missing?”
“Because Gloria was not your birth mother,” Cece said softly. “I’m sorry.”
He looked past her then to Chris, his emotions unreadable. “Who is my birth mother?”
Chris swallowed. “A woman named Juliana Martinez. Do you recognize that name?”
Juan Jr. shook his head. “No.”
He raised his brows as he inspected me, running a hand over the top of his head to smooth the hairs that had come loose from their ribbon. Clearing his throat, he dismissed the topic of his mother and shifted his attention back to Jack. “Do we sail to the isthmus then? If we’re to stand any chance at catching them, we should not waste any more time.”
“Yes,” Jack said, his eyes meeting mine. “We’ll try it your way, Red.”
Juan Jr. bowed his head. “I can have my men pull the anchor and prepare the sails at once… assuming you still wish for me to sail it?”
Jack’s shoulders sank in defeat and he nodded. “Go…”
Juan leaned in to whisper his gratitude to Cece before hurrying out of the cabin.
Jack watched him go and let out a long breath once the corridor was empty of his footsteps. “It’s a mistake to trust him… This will be yet another mistake we will come to regret. You all know that, don’t you?”
Cece touched Jack’s shoulder. “We don’t know that. What other choice do we have?”
“I don’t know,” Jack huffed, staring at the open door, “but I have a feeling, if we can’t catch up to them, when it comes the time for us to go back to the storm, Juan Jr. will find some way to stop us. I can’t let him out of my sight; can’t leave him alone up there to potentially scheme with the other men. Let’s go.”
And then he was gone. Jim handed Cecelia back to my sister and followed, Lilly, Bruce, Chris, and Kyle hurrying out behind him, leaving only the two of us and the detective still standing in the cabin.
‘Died at sea.’
That’s all I could think of. What if we could never make it back? I held Zachary tighter. If we could never make it back, I would lose both Jack and Zachary. I couldn’t bear it.
“He’s going to die,” I whispered, staring at the open door and the empty corridor beyond it. “Even with our knowledge of it… there’s nothing we can do to prevent it. Is there?”
Terrence shook his head. “There’s plenty we can do. Look around you. If all this is real, then we are holding history in our very hands; time is ours to command. There are at least twenty books in that room on 18th century history we brought with us—I know because I carried them down. Honey, we can prevent anything we want to.”
With all the morning’s commotion, I’d forgotten the “gifts” Bud had brought with him, including the vast collection of books on 18th century history. Maybe there was something in them—some reference to our journey or at least our destinations that would give us clues as to when and where we might save Jack’s life. At the very least, scanning each page would keep my mind occupied.
“You’re right,” I said, turning toward the door. “We should start reading…”