“Tell me where it’s hid,” Jake Barber demanded.
Caleb Hawkins felt Barber’s scraggly beard brush the side of his face.
“I swear on my mother’s grave, I’ll dig it up and give it all to yer kid. You’re done for,” Barber said.
“Your Ma ain’t dead, Barber,” Hawkins said, his voice a raspy whisper. He knew he was a goner. Suffering from an acute attack of malaria, he lay on the floor of a tent in Pointe Lookout Union Prison somewhere in Maryland. Weak from the ravages of the disease and starvation, he knew he didn’t have much longer to live. The endless spring rains of 1864 coupled with the bad air off the marshes of the Chesapeake Bay, thin rations and poor sanitation had Confederate soldiers dying like flies in the over-crowed camp. It looked to Hawk as though soon he’d be just another body in the nearby cemetery.
Hawk and Barber had known each other for a long time. They both had grown up as cow hunters in Central Florida. The Barber ranch was close to the ocean while Hawk’s father and mother settled further west, near the St. John’s River.
Hawk’s father had avoided trouble during the last Seminole war with the aid of friends among the Seminole Indians. With their help, he’d made a small fortune in gold doubloons rounding up Florida scrub cows and selling them to Cuba.
Barber’s filthy hand clawed at the neck of Hawk’s ragged homespun shirt. “I see’d what you got hanging round your neck with that gator tooth. Is that the key to the treasure?”
Barber gripped the tooth in two fingers. It was four inches long, yellowed and curved. The tip was twisted and white. His fingers inched toward the key and Hawk pushed him away. He was weak, so weak.
Hawk’s father had never cared about spending the gold he brought home from Tampa after selling the cows each year. When Hawk’s father was a young man, he’d thought he’d like to be a preacher. It turned out though he liked God a lot, but there were more things about organized religion he didn’t like. He moved to Florida with his wife in 1832 and settled near the St, Johns River. All he cared about was working the cattle, the long days on the plains and his small family. The gold he saved was stored in three chests Hawk had hidden away before setting out on his last cattle drive.
Most of the folks that lived on the neighboring farms and ranches knew about old David Hawkins’ gold, including the Barbers. Now fate had landed him in the same tent as Jake the Snake Barber, the youngest son of a prolific family, both prisoners of the Union Army.
Hawk pushed Barber’s grasping hand further away with the little strength he had. His arms felt like jelly. He couldn’t lift a spoon to feed himself even if there was something to eat. Malaria had him in its clutches and the fever was running high. He kept drifting in and out of reality. Half the time he thought he was out riding his marsh tacky under the clear blue Florida sky hunting for cows, his leopard dogs baying at the horse’s heels, then he’d wake shivering to find the cold tent roof over his head and the colder ground beneath his thin pallet.